(photo credit: AP [file])
A serious row has erupted between the Palestinian Authority and Qatar after the emirate hosted a "mini summit" of Arab and Muslim heads of state over the weekend to discuss Israel's military offensive in the Gaza Strip.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas boycotted the summit under the pretext that the quorum required for holding such a gathering had not been achieved.
But Qatar's Prime Minister, Hamad bin Jasem al-Thani, said that Abbas told him during a phone conversation on Thursday that he (Abbas) was under pressure, apparently from the US, to boycott the summit.
"Abbas told me that attending the summit was tantamount to cutting all his veins," al-Thani said. "We invited him, but he didn't want to come because of the pressure on him. He told me that he doesn't have permission to come."
Abbas is scheduled to hold talks in Cairo on Thursday with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak over the situation in the Gaza Strip in the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead.
The Qatari prime minister's remarks drew sharp criticism from the PA leadership, whose representatives and spokesmen accused the rulers of the emirate of "consecrating divisions" among the Palestinians and supporting Hamas.
The PA leadership also expressed outrage over Qatar's decision to invite the leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad to the summit, which was held in Doha.
Khaled Mashaal of Hamas and Ramadan Shallah of Islamic Jihad attended the gathering as representatives of "Palestine." Some PA officials called for closing down the offices of the Qatari-owned Al-Jazeera TV network in protest against Qatar's alleged support for Hamas and its accusations against Abbas.
The Qataris said they decided to invite Mashaal and Shallah only after Abbas informed them of his decision to boycott the summit.
Abbas's absence from the summit raised eyebrows even among some of his loyalists, who privately admitted that he had made a "huge mistake" by boycotting a meeting dedicated to discussing the situation in the Gaza Strip.
Abbas's top aides and media launched a scathing attack on Qatar and accused its prime minister of lying about the phone conversation. They also accused Qatar of "exploiting the blood of the Palestinians to score political gains."
Tayeb Abdel Rahim, a senior aide to Abbas, said that the PA president would have liked to attend the conference, but was unable to do so because of the small number of Arab leaders who accepted the invitation.
"The Qataris are lying," he said. "They have no right to speak on behalf of the president. The phone conversation [between the Qatari PM and Abbas] has been recorded and we may make it public."
Another Abbas aide, Yasser Abed Rabbo, warned the rulers of Qatar against "tampering with Palestinian blood, which is a red line for us." Qatar, he added, is not the first Arab country to try and drive a wedge between the Palestinians.
"Qatar is just a tiny country," he said. "Other countries, which are actually superpowers, tried before Qatar to exploit the Palestinian cause and deepen divisions among our people, but to no avail."
Azzam al-Ahmed, a top Fatah official in Ramallah, also accused the Qataris of lying. He said that the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, was serving US and Israeli interests in the region.
Al-Ahmed claimed that the bombs used by Israel in the Gaza Strip were brought from US military bases in Qatar.
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