Earlier this month, Hamas launched a devastating bombardment of rocket-propelled grenades and machine-gun fire against a mosque in Rafah. The attack killed at least 22 Palestinians, including an 11-year-old girl. Over 100 more were injured and the mosque, which belonged to a rival Islamist faction, the Jund Ansar Allah, was left riddled with bullets. The adjacent building was destroyed. Yet Hamas's disregard for the sanctity of a house of worship, and its contempt for the lives of neighbouring civilians, is unlikely to be the subject of any probing reports from Human Rights Watch.
It is no surprise to see Hamas brutalising the Palestinian population as it tightens its vice-like grip over Gaza. After all, it seized control of the territory in a bloody coup against the Palestinian Authority in June 2007, murdering rivals and hurling PA officials from the rooftops. Subsequently, it has ruthlessly and violently crushed any potential challenge to its power, whether from the Palestinian nationalists of Fatah, or from rival terrorist groups within the Islamist fold.
Meanwhile, it has imposed Gaza's rapid descent into fanatical freefall. As it hounded out the Palestinian Authority, Hamas opened Gaza's floodgates to a tsunami of extremism. Extremism breeds extremism, and the rise of rival Jihadist groups is a problem of Hamas's own making. Yet when it perceives such groups as a threat, or when ideological differences exist, it demonstrates its own barbaric methods of conflict resolution and law enforcement.
Brutality is at the heart of Hamas's practice and ideology, characterising its actions against both Palestinians and Israelis. Throughout its bloody history, the organisation has unleashed waves of indiscriminate terror against any attempt at progress. Yet alarmingly, sections of the media are determined to whitewash and legitimise it. They are joined by various politicians, commentators and activists, who argue that Israel and the West must talk to Hamas, so implying that it is on the verge of a switch to moderation.
Yet Hamas has no interest in compromise or negotiation. The most vicious, genocidal anti-Semitism is intrinsic to its goals. Its charter includes the ominous vision that, "The Day of Judgment will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews and kill them. When the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him." This year, a senior Hamas figure, Fathi Hammad, reminded us of its continued commitment to this goal when he stated: "We will not rest until we destroy the Zionist entity."
Meanwhile, Hamas continues to implement a systematic process of religious radicalisation within Gazan society. It reformulated Gaza's penal code, introducing medieval punishments such as public lashings, the severing of limbs and execution by stoning. New laws force schoolgirls to wear the hijab. Security forces make public harassment of women routine and oversee Gaza's descent into misogynistic, religious totalitarianism. It is absurd that any self-proclaimed "progressive" should sympathise with a programme of theocratic oppression.
Israel's prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu is in London this week. He can point to the co-operation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority which has helped develop and strengthen the Palestinian infrastructure in the West Bank. Legitimising Hamas and rewarding its militancy would threaten to destroy these seeds of hope. A combination of Israeli concessions and the responsible Palestinian leadership of President Abbas and prime minister Fayyad saw the West Bank Palestinian economy grow by 5-7 per cent in 2008. Since July 2007, the number of permanent security checkpoints in the West Bank has been reduced from 41 to 14. As Israel continues to implement measures to ease movement and trade, the rate of economic growth is predicted to double. In stark contrast, Hamas has, according to the veteran Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, led Gaza "down the drain in chaos and lawlessness".
As Mr Netanyahu visits London, voices from the fringes will urge him to engage Hamas. He would do well to remind them of the extremist menace which the organisation continues to pose. As Israel and the Palestinian leadership make continued efforts towards the social and economic progress essential to move forward, Hamas's brutality should serve as a warning to us all. Hamas is incompatible with compromise with Palestinians or Israelis. It threatens to lead the Palestinians down a dead-end road of division, carnage and self-destruction.
To avoid that tragedy, it is crucial to bolster the economic road map to peace. Mr Netanyahu reinforced that message when he met Gordon Brown. Economic progress is not a substitute for a political solution, but it will be a prerequisite. For that approach to succeed, it is vital that the international community, and in particular the wealthier Arab states, put their money where their mouth is, in defeating the extremism of Hamas and giving moderation a chance to flourish.