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Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh are expected to meet in Gaza City soon in yet another attempt to defuse rising tensions between Fatah and Hamas, senior PA officials here said on Wednesday.
The meeting comes as both parties escalated their war of words in the past 48 hours. It also comes at the peak of the severe financial crisis that has plagued the PA since the formation of the new Hamas-controlled cabinet.
Muhammad Awad, secretary-general of the cabinet, said the Abbas-Haniyeh meeting could be held as early as Thursday. He said the two were expected to discuss the venue for the upcoming "national dialogue conference" between all the Palestinian factions.
Hamas leaders appear to be at odds over the location of the conference, which is scheduled for mid-May. Khaled Mashaal and other Damascus-based Hamas leaders want the parley to be held in Cairo so that they could participate, while Haniyeh insists on convening the conference in the Gaza Strip. Abbas is also believed to have expressed his opposition to holding the conference in Cairo.
Abbas is expected to urge Haniyeh to accept United Nations resolutions regarding the Middle East crisis, including Israel's right to exist, so as to end international sanctions against the Hamas cabinet.
In addition, Abbas will demand that the cabinet dismantle the new Hamas security force established in the Gaza Strip by Interior Minister Said Siam.
Abbas and Fatah-affiliated security commanders in the Gaza Strip have expressed deep concern over the establishment of the 3,000-strong force, which consists solely of Hamas militiamen.
Haniyeh on Wednesday accused the US administration of intimidating Arab banks to prevent them from transferring funds to the Hamas cabinet. He said his cabinet had managed to collect enough donations to cover its expenses for several months, but all the Arab banks were afraid to transfer the money because of US pressure and intimidation.
Haniyeh declared that he would not agree to receive his salary until all 140,000 civil servants were paid.
"My government won't succumb to the pressure and we won't make any political concessions," he said.
Muhammad Nazzal, a senior Hamas official, on Wednesday accused Abbas of conspiring with the US and Israel to undermine the Hamas cabinet. He said Abbas was participating in the sanctions against the Hamas cabinet by cutting its financial and security powers. He also claimed that many civil servants had received their salaries from Fatah because they were party members.
Nazzal's accusations, which were made during an interview with Al-Jazeera, drew sharp criticism from Fatah leaders. "Such statements show that the real dispute is between the Hamas leadership [abroad] and the Hamas cabinet," said Jamal Nazzal, a Fatah spokesman in the West Bank.
He also called on Hamas to refrain from making provocative statements that don't serve the interests of the Palestinians.
Fatah legislator Muhammad Dahlan accused Hamas of "escalating tensions with Fatah and spreading confusion." He said the Hamas attacks on Fatah had united the party and prompted its members to accelerate the process of reforms.
Denying that he had been the target of a recent assassination attempt in Gaza City, Dahlan said he was not asking Hamas to recognize Israel.
"I advise them not to recognize Israel," he said. "But they should not lead the Palestinians toward more tragedies and pain. The case of the salaries of the civil servants is only one issue facing them, and may God help them." Meanwhile, Fatah sources claimed that Hamas had bought ammunition for more than $250,000. The sources said the ammunition included over 100,000 bullets at the cost of NIS 11.5 each. Hamas officials described the claim as "lies."
Meanwhile, a senior Hamas official said Tuesday that Hamas is ready to consider a 2002 Arab League peace plan - which calls for recognition of Israel and a return to pre-1967 war borders - but only if the Jewish state accepts the proposal first, a senior Hamas official said Tuesday.
Moussa Abu Marzouk, deputy head of Hamas's political bureau, said his group would not obstruct attempts to revive the initiative endorsed by Arab leaders at a 2002 Beirut summit, though he said such initiatives were doomed to fail.
A second senior Hamas official, speaking from an Israeli jail and on condition of anonymity, said the group was unlikely to make a quick decision to prevent the appearance of having bowed to external pressure.
AP contributed to this report.