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Hamas: Gaza 1st step toward liberation

BEIRUT, Lebanon, Aug. 17 (UPI) -- Hamas Politburo Chief Khaled Meshal said Israel's withdrawal from Gaza Strip is an important step on the way for the liberation of Palestinian territory.

Meshal accused Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of seeking to manipulate the withdrawal from Gaza in order to consolidate his hold on the West Bank and expand settlements there.

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"Sharon is seeking to relay a misleading message to the world that he made a peace step, while he is actually trying to cover the defeat inflicted on him by the resistance which forced him to quit Gaza," Meshal said.

Hamas' most senior official stressed that his group will not drop arms noting that "the battle is not over yet, but we are still in the beginning of the road for liberation."

Israel started Monday the evacuation of settlements as part of its unilateral disengagement plan in the Gaza Strip.

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