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February 06, 2003

Hamas leader: Islamic group is ready to take over from Arafat

At least with Hamas there is no duplicity about their goals
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) -- Hamas is prepared to assume leadership of the Palestinian people, a senior Hamas official said Thursday in a rare expression of the goal of the violent Islamic movement.

Hamas has avoided direct conflicts with Yasser Arafat's leadership, although from time to time, clashes between the groups have erupted.

Mahmoud Zahar, a leader of the Hamas political wing, told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday that his group is "absolutely" prepared to lead the Palestinian people now.

He said Hamas has the infrastructure to take over leadership "politically, financially (and) socially."

Polls have shown consistently that Arafat's Fatah movement is more popular than Hamas among Palestinians, but Arafat has not visited Gaza in more than a year. He has been confined to his Ramallah West Bank headquarters by the Israeli military presence.

Hamas has moved into the vacuum in Gaza, stepping up social services in the crowded, poverty-stricken territory. Also, its frequent attacks against Israel have bolstered its backing.