The Guardian reports: Hamas has confirmed that it will shift tactics away from violent attacks on Israel as part of a rapprochement with the Palestinian Authority.
A spokesman for the Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniya, told the Guardian that the Islamic party, which has controlled Gaza for the past five years, was shifting its emphasis from armed struggle to non-violent resistance.
“Violence is no longer the primary option but if Israel pushes us, we reserve the right to defend ourselves with force,” said the spokesman, Taher al-Nounu. On this understanding, he said, all Palestinian factions operating in the Gaza Strip have agreed to halt the firing of rockets and mortars into Israel.
The announcement on Sunday does not qualify as a full repudiation of violence, but marks a step away from violent extremism by the Hamas leadership towards the more progressive Islamism espoused by groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo.
The Associated Press reports: Bans on women smoking water pipes in public and male coiffeurs styling women’s hair are no longer being strictly enforced in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, apparent signs of greater tolerance as the Islamic militant group acknowledges mistakes in seeking to impose a religious lifestyle.
In explaining the change, several senior members said Hamas has matured in five years in power and learned lessons from the Arab Spring. Islamic groups that have scored election victories in the wake of pro-democracy uprisings in the region now find themselves trying to allay fears they seek Islamic rule.
Since seizing Gaza, Hamas had largely silenced opponents and tried to impose stricter religious rules on an already conservative society. Modesty squads asked young couples seen in public to show proof of marriage, told beachgoers to put on more clothes and ordered shopowners to cover up mannequins. High school girls came under pressure from teachers to wear headscarves.
In recent months, there’s been a change in atmosphere, say rights activists and even political rivals of Hamas.
“Things are freer than before,” said Nasser Radwan, whose family restaurant is one of the places where women again come to smoke water pipes.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said “some mistakes were made” under Hamas rule, though he blamed individual security commanders and overzealous activists, not the government, for heavy-handed tactics.
“They don’t represent the ideology and policy of the Hamas movement,” Barhoum said. “Our policy is that we are not going to dictate anything to anyone.”