hamas demo 224 88.
(photo credit: AP)
Next week's US-sponsored peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland, has not only increased tensions between Fatah and Hamas, but has also caused a rift among senior Palestinian Authority officials and negotiators here.
Hamas and a number of radical groups announced Thursday that they are planning to hold their own conference in the Gaza Strip early next week to express their opposition to the Annapolis gathering.
The anti-Annapolis conference is aimed at sending a message to the international community that the majority of the Palestinians are opposed to making concessions to Israel, said Nahed al-Rayyes, spokesman for several groups behind the initiative. "We also want to send a message that we are opposed to any form of normalization with Israel."
Speaking to reporters in Gaza City, deposed Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said the Palestinians would express their opposition to the Annapolis conference "in more than one field and on many levels."
Haniyeh warned Abbas against relinquishing the "right of return" for Palestinian refugees. "No one has the right or mandate to give up any of our rights, first and foremost the right of return," he stressed. "We are aware that this conference won't achieve anything for the Palestinians."
Haniyeh urged the Arab countries to boycott the Annapolis conference and resist attempts to normalize relations with Israel. "Israel is seeking normalization, especially with key countries like Saudi Arabia," he said. "We must avoid giving legitimacy to free normalization with the Israeli occupation."
The Hamas leader also dismissed Israel's demand that the Palestinians recognize the Jewish character of the state. "We don't recognize the Jewishness of this state," he said. "Israel is an occupation force on our lands and we won't surrender our rights."
Khaled Abu Hilal, a top Fatah dissident in the Gaza Strip, condemned Abbas as a pawn who was imposed on the Palestinians by the US. "Abbas and his team don't represent the Palestinians," he said.
"These people have a black history and are known for the concessions they made to Israel in previous negotiations. These are the people who killed Yasser Arafat and are now serving the interests of the US and Israel."
Leaflets distributed here by representatives of various Palestinian political and civic groups called on Abbas and the Arab countries to stay away from the Annapolis conference, saying it was aimed at paving the way for American "aggression" on Arab and Islamic parties - a reference to Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hizbullah.
The leaflets also warned Abbas against relinquishing the rights of the refugees or making any compromises on Jerusalem.
Abu Mujahed, spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees, an alliance of various armed groups in the Gaza Strip, warned that any concessions made by Abbas at Annapolis would trigger a third intifada. "The third intifada will be fiercer than the previous ones," he said. "The Palestinians are sick and tired of these concessions and all the conspiracies against them. This conference is a new conspiracy to liquidate the Palestinian issue."
Yet the challenges to Abbas are also coming from within his inner circle. Sources close to the PA leadership said Abbas and his top aides were concerned about the growing power of Prime Minister Salaam Fayad. They added that Abbas is also under pressure from many Fatah leaders to replace Fayad with a senior Fatah figure.
Some of the aides have even expressed fear that Fayad, who ran in the last parliamentary election as head of an independent party called Third Way, may be preparing to run in the next presidential election to succeed Abbas.
One aide claimed that Fayad and PA negotiator Yasser Abed Rabbo were currently working together on establishing a new party that would contest the next Palestinian elections.
Abed Rabbo, who is one of the architects of the 2003 Geneva Peace Initiative, has already alienated the head of the PA negotiating team, Ahmed Qurei, by holding separate talks with some Israeli politicians ahead of the Annapolis parley.
The squabbling among the top brass of the PA leadership has divided the Palestinian negotiating team into two camps - one led by Abbas, Qurei and Saeb Erekat, and the second headed by Fayad and Abed Rabbo.
"What is urgently needed is a conference to make peace first among the Palestinians," quipped a veteran PLO leader. "I'm afraid the divisions among the Palestinians will deepen after the Annapolis conference."
Abbas, who is expected to participate Friday in a special session of the Arab League ministerial committee in Cairo to discuss the conference, will seek backing for the Palestinian position.
The PA president, according to his aides, will try to persuade the Arab countries to dispatch high-level delegations to Annapolis to help the Palestinians resist US and Israeli pressure.
Abbas expressed concern that key Arab countries like Syria and Saudi Arabia would be represented at the conference only by their ambassadors to Washington. His concern was voiced during Thursday's mini summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm e-Sheikh with President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah II. Both Syria and Saudi Arabia have yet to confirm their participation.
Egypt, meanwhile, said Thursday that the Annapolis conference could mark a major breakthrough, opening the door for a possible final Israeli-Palestinian agreement in the next year.
"It is clear that President (George W.) Bush and the current American administration is achieving progress that will pave the way to the establishment of the two states and an independent Palestinian state within the next year and before the end of Bush's term," said Suleiman Awad, spokesman for Mubarak's office.
"This is a commitment for a timetable that we hear for the first time," he told reporters. He said the three leaders agreed that "the conference gives a large space for optimism."
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