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Gaza's Hamas rulers on Tuesday hotly denied letting al-Qaida infiltrate the coastal strip, as Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has alleged.
In an interview Monday with Italy's RAI TV, Abbas charged that "thanks to the support of Hamas, al-Qaida is entering Gaza." As a result, he said, Fatah would not renew dialogue with Hamas.
He added that "Gaza is in great danger, and needs international help."
However, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri accused Abbas of trying to whip up sentiment against Hamas.
"Hamas has no link to al-Qaida," Abu Zuhri said. Abbas "is trying to mislead international opinion to win support for his demand to deploy international forces in Gaza."
Abbas, who is to meet with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi in Ramallah on Tuesday, offered no evidence to back up his allegations.
Al-Qaida's presence in the PA territories has been a subject of intense speculation since the 2001 terror attacks on New York and Washington.
Al-Qaida's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahri, recently issued a call for supporting Hamas. But Hamas leaders, fearful of deepening the group's international isolation, have suggested they would steer clear of al-Qaida, in line with the movement's long-standing position to stay focused on the conflict with Israel.
On Monday evening, Prodi met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem. The two discussed ways of strengthening the new PA government and agreed that despite the Hamas takeover of Gaza, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank remained a single Palestinian entity.
Prodi is also set to meet Tuesday with PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad and Karnit Goldwasser, wife of kidnapped IDF reservist Ehud Goldwasser.