(photo credit: Associated Press)
A senior Hamas official said Tuesday that Hamas did not reject a Qatari attempt to defuse a growing crisis in the Palestinian territories, disputing a claim by his rival Fatah group that the Gulf state's initiative had failed.
Mohammed Nazal, a member of the group's Syria-based leadership, said Hamas only asked for amendments to the Qatari proposal, but did not reject it outright.
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He also accused Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of waging "a war of elimination" on Hamas, which holds top positions in the Palestinian government and a majority in parliament.
"They are not after moderating us - it is about wiping us out. It is a war of elimination," Nazal told The Associated Press. He spoke by telephone from another Arab country, but would not specify where.
Earlier, Fatah, Palestinian Authority officials said that Hamas had rejected the Qatari plan that calls for recognizing Israel and renouncing violence as a prerequisite for forming a unity government.
But Nazal said later that his group - the dominant faction in Palestinian politics - only asked for some changes to the Qatari proposal. He did not elaborate.
Meanwhile, the head of the PA's General Intelligence Force in the West Bank, Tawfik Tirawi, warned that the Palestinians were on the verge of civil war because of Hamas's policies.
"Civil war could break out at any moment," he said. "Hamas is storing large amounts of weapons and ammunition so they could use them against Fatah. Hamas is preparing for war against Fatah and President Mahmoud Abbas."
Qatar's Foreign Minister, Hamad Bin Jasem Al-Thani, left the Gaza Strip empty handed after failing to persuade Hamas to accept his plan, the officials said. The minister held separate talks in Gaza City with Abbas and Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.
"We have failed to reach an agreement on two major points in the plan," the Qatari minister told reporters as he was leaving the Gaza Strip. "The main dispute is over recognizing Israel's right to exist alongside a Palestinian state."
Nabil Abu Rudaineh, a spokesman for Abbas, said the gap between Hamas and Fatah remained as wide as ever, pointing out that Hamas had refused to accept the demands of the international community to recognize Israel. "There are still some obstacles on the road to achieving a Palestinian unity government and we need more time."
Before visiting the Gaza Strip, the Qatari minister met in Damscus with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal and presented him with his plan to resolve the crisis in the PA. The plan consists of six points: a commitment by the Palestinian government to abide by all United Nations resolutions concerning the Middle East conflict, honoring all the agreements that were signed between the PLO and Israel, the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, a mutual cessation of all forms of violence, "reactivating" the PLO and entrusting the PA leadership with conducting negotiations with Israel.
Nabil Amr, one of Abbas's top advisors announced that the Qatari mediation efforts had failed and blamed Hamas for the ongoing crisis. He hinted that Abbas might now be forced to fire the Hamas-led government and establish a new government.
"All options are open in the wake of the failure of the Qatari plan," Amr said. "It's time to say that we can no longer continue to waste our time. I see no point in conducting endless negotiations with Hamas over the formation of a unity government."
He held Hamas responsible for the failure of the Qatari minister's mission. "By rejecting parts of the Qatari plan, the brothers in Hamas actually spoiled the mediation efforts."
Yasser Abed Rabo, a member of the PLO executive committee who participated in the talks between Abbas and the Qatari foreign minister, said that the only way out of the current crisis was to call new elections.
"The problem with Hamas is that whenever we reach an agreement with them, they backtrack," he said. "We are moving in a vicious cycle."
Ghazi Hamad, spokesman for the Hamas-led government, confirmed that his movement had rejected some of the points in the Qatari plan - renouncing violence and recognizing Israel.
"Hamas informed the Qatari minister that it is opposed to terrorism, but at the same time is committed to resisting the occupation to achieve the rights of the Palestinians," he explained. "With regards to the two-state solution, we made it clear that this issue was unacceptable since Israel does not recognize the legitimate rights of the Palestinians, including the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state next to Israel."