The Palestinian Authority welcomed US Condoleeza Rice to the Middle East this weekend in many ways, one of them the airing of a long interview with the leader of the Palestinian Islamic movement Hamas who claimed that the United States was leading an anti-Islamic “crusade” that had left thousands of Muslim martyrs.

“This is a new Crusade war, a new war of crusades that Bush is leading,” declared the Hamas leader, Muhammad Al-Zahar, speaking on the official Palestinian network (PBC) run by Palestinian leader Amhmoud Abbas, the successor to Yasser Arafat.

The Palestinian Hamas leader repeated several times that U.S. President George Bush was leading a new stage of Christian crusades against the Islamic world, and he even repeated his claim in English, interspersing the term “CRUSADES” with the Arabic term “hamla salibiyya.”

In an hour-long interview show aired Saturday and Sunday on the Palestinian Broadcast Corporation (PBC) local and satellite channels, the Hamas leader claimed that President Bush’s “crusade” had already led to the deaths of 70,000 Islamic martyrs.

The comments were parallel to more than half a dozen speeches attacking the United States by official mosque speakers on Palestinian radio and television in the last month-none of which has been publicly disavowed by the Abbas regime that controls the mosque speakers and pays their salaries.

The Hamas leader also targeted Israel in his remarks, saying that his movement’s continued armed activities against “the Zionist enemy” were not a violation of the “tahdiyya”-the so called “lull” or “cooling-off period.”

Hamas leader Al-Zahar thanked PBC [controlled by PA leader Mahmoud Abbas] for its courtesty and support, telling viewers that he, too, was concerned about “security chaos” [Arabic: fatalaan amni] in the Palestinian Authority [PA], but he stressed that “resistance to the enemy” [i.e. Israel] was not the cause.

Al-Zahar hinted broadly that it was internal Fatah rivalries and corruption that were the cause of internal security problems.

“The reason that America and Europe have referred to Hamas and to other resisting factions as terrorist organizations has to do with the media of the Zionist enemy state and of the Zionists in other parts of the West,” said Al-Zahar.

“It is based on ignorance….The fact that this Administration [Bush-MW] has called the Palestinian resistance terror after 9-11, and that it continues its aggression in Iraq….this cannot be based on information….For Bush, this is a new campaign of Crusades.”

Dr. Michael Widlanski is a specialist in Arab politics and communication whose doctorate dealt with the Palestinian broadcast media. He is a former reporter, correspondent and editor, respectively, at The New York Times, The Cox Newspapers-Atlanta Constitution, and The Jerusalem Post.