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Hamas officials on Saturday accused Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas of planning to stage a coup against the Hamas-led government by sending thousands of PA policemen to riot in various parts of the Gaza Strip. They warned that Abbas's alleged plot would ignite a bloody civil war.
Meanwhile, sources close to Abbas revealed that he refused to meet Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in Qatar until the latter apologized for insulting him in May. In that speech at a Palestinian refugee camp near Damascus, Mashaal accused Abbas of plotting with the US and Israel to topple the democratically elected government headed by Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.
Qatar's rulers tried to arrange a meeting between Abbas and Mashaal over the weekend to discuss the formation of a national unity government, but Mashaal's refusal to apologize prompted Abbas to call it off, the sources said.
Abbas later flew to Kuwait, where he was to hold talks with the emirate's leaders on the current crisis between Fatah and Hamas. Abbas, according to the sources, is seeking the backing of as many Arab countries as possible for a potential dismissal of the Hamas-led government.
As Hamas and Fatah representatives continued to trade allegations over responsibility for the failure of the unity government talks, thousands of PA policemen took to the streets in the Gaza Strip, shooting into the air and blocking main routes. They were protesting the PA's failure to pay them full salaries since Hamas came to power eight months ago.
"We want to live, we want salaries," the policemen shouted as they burned tires in some areas. Sources in Gaza City said the protesters belonged to various branches of the PA security forces and were joined by several hundred Fatah gunmen.
In Deir al-Balah, a masked gunman tossed a hand grenade at a group of policemen who were blocking one of the main roads, wounding five of them.
In Rafah, dozens of PA policemen threw stones at the car of Culture Minister Attallah Abu al-Sabah, smashing some windows. No one was hurt.
The protests, which began on Thursday, are seen by some Hamas leaders as an attempt by Abbas and Fatah to stage a coup against the Hamas-led government with the help of Israel and the US.
Hamas legislator Marwan Abu Ras accused Abbas of orchestrating the protests in an attempt to overthrow the government. "Abbas is behind the chaos and anarchy," he charged. "These people who claim they are policemen are actually suspicious elements. These are forces of chaos and not security forces. These elements report to Abbas and he's responsible for their actions."
A statement issued by the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip claimed that Fatah was behind the protests. It noted that the protesters had opened fire indiscriminately, blocked main roads, assaulted residents and caused damage to infrastructure and private property.
"These protests are designed to create more confusion in the Palestinian arena," the statement said. "The riots by the so-called policemen are part of an organized criminal campaign to trigger civil war and destroy our national institutions and achievements."
Without mentioning Abbas by name, the Hamas statement said that "these acts of sabotage are a clear attempt to overthrow the legitimate government. This is part of a plot concocted by the friends of Israel and the US to bring down the Palestinian government at any cost. These saboteurs are serving the interests of foreign and hostile parties. They are acting against their own people."
Mousa Abu Marzouk, a top Hamas leader living in Syria, accused Abbas of stepping up his efforts to overthrow the government. He added that Abbas refused to meet with Mashaal in Qatar unless the latter announced that he would recognize Israel and abide by all the agreements between the Palestinians and Israelis.
"Hamas has no conditions for a meeting between Abbas and Mashaal," he said. "Such a meeting was supposed to take place in Qatar, but Abbas cancelled it."
Abu Marzouk said Abbas recently rejected offers by three Arab countries - Sudan, Qatar and Yemen - to mediate between him and Hamas. "Abbas chose to escalate the crisis by setting conditions for the planned meeting with Mashaal," he said. "He wanted Mashaal to accept the conditions of the Quartet for resuming financial aid to the Palestinian people. He also prevented his former prime minister, Ahmed Qurei, from meeting with Hamas leaders during a recent visit to Damascus."
Another top Hamas leader, Muhammad Nazzal, said Abbas backtracked on the agreement over the formation of a unity government after he came under heavy pressure from the US. "Abbas told the Hamas leadership that the US would not accept a unity government on the basis of the reconciliation document [also know as the Palestinian prisoners' document] because it does not explicitly recognize Israel," he said.
Like most Hamas leaders, Nazzal stressed that his movement would never accept the conditions of the Quartet for resuming financial aid to the Palestinians and which include renouncing violence, recognizing Israel and honoring all previous agreements with Israel.