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(photo credit: AP [file])
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas said Tuesday he would be prepared to free from prison the mastermind of a Knesset member's assassination, but he would not be responsible for any Israeli actions against him.
Ahmed Sa'adat, head of the radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the group responsible for the October 2001 assassination of MK Rehavam Ze'evi, is imprisoned under international supervision in Jericho. Israel has repeatedly warned the Palestinians that if Sa'adat is freed, they will get their hands on him.
"I have no problem releasing Ahmed Sa'adat tomorrow, but with one condition: to have a letter from the PFLP politburo saying that I am not responsible for what would happen to him after that," Abbas told reporters.
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Tuesday that Hamas is showing interest in supporting Middle East peace initiatives such as the road map and a land-for-peace Arab proposal.
"We heard from them that they would be ready to express their position on the road map and to hopefully endorse the road map - as drafted by the Quartet - without any reservations to be added to this road map," Lavrov said.
During the visit of the Hamas delegation to Moscow, Lavrov added they promised to respect "the authority and competencies" of Abbas.
With Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at his side, Lavrov defended Russia's invitation to Hamas to visit Moscow, saying it was important that the Quartet position be conveyed directly to the Islamic group.
"It is in the interests of the Palestinian people that the Quartet is accepted by Hamas," Lavrov said.
Elsewhere, Palestinian Prime Minister-designate Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas pledged Tuesday to protect women's rights, but some women were skeptical about the Islamic movement's real intentions after they were locked out of the Gaza parliament.
And in the West Bank, lawmakers refused to stop their work and join the women in a march, a symbolic sign of possible trouble ahead from Hamas, in control of the Palestinian legislature for the first time.
About 100 women arrived at the Gaza City parliament building for their annual visit to mark International Women's Day, set for Wednesday, but they found the gates barred.
The women demonstrated, holding signs and shouting, "O men, we're partners in the struggle," until secular lawmakers intervened to let them inside.
Hamas is setting up a new Palestinian government after sweeping parliamentary elections in January. While Israel and Western nations are concerned about the group's past record of suicide bombings and refusal to recognize the Jewish state, the women were concerned about how they might fare under an Islamic government.
In other places, Islamic regimes have banned women from public life and enforced stiff restrictions on their lives. Hamas was required by Palestinian law to include women on its list of parliament candidates.
Haniyeh and other Hamas lawmakers assured the women they are an important part of politics and society. "We will protect all the gains made by the Palestinian women and even develop them," Haniyeh told the women.
He said there would be women in the new Cabinet, but he wouldn't say how many.
Naila Ayesh, director of the Women's Affairs Center in Gaza, who took part in the meeting, was doubtful. "We always hear very nice words from them, but on the ground I am not optimistic," she said.
She worried that Hamas would implement Islamic principles like polygamy and erase progress women have already made.
In Ramallah, where the split parliament was also meeting Tuesday, there were not enough votes on the floor to call a recess to join the women's day march as in the past.
Independent member Hanan Ashrawi said she and several others walked out of the parliament to join the march during a break for prayer.
Rabiha Diab of the secular Fatah Party said Hamas lawmakers "closed their ears and wouldn't listen to anyone who talked differently."
Ashrawi, a veteran human rights campaigner, was skeptical about Hamas promises to improve the lives of Palestinian women. "We hear all sorts of things," she said, "but when it comes down to practice it doesn't happen."
In contrast, Abbas, who is also the head of Fatah, declared a paid day off on Wednesday for women government employees in honor of women's day.
"I hope we struggle together for Palestinian women to get more rights and we don't just settle for slogans and speeches," Abbas told the 500 women who marched to his Ramallah office Tuesday.