Palestinian Authority officials here expressed concern on Wednesday over attempts by Hamas and other Palestinian radical groups to create a new PLO at a conference due to take place in Syria and the Gaza Strip early next month.
The officials told The Jerusalem Post that they were trying to persuade the Syrian government to ban the conference.
They called on the Arab countries and the US to join their efforts to thwart the planned conference.
The conference, which will bring together several Palestinian "rejectionist" groups, has been called in response to the US-sponsored peace conference, which is due to be held in Annapolis, Maryland, late this year. The conference will be held simultaneously in Damascus and Gaza City through a video-conference link.
"The conference in Damascus will deepen divisions among the Palestinians," warned a senior PA official. "This is the first time that several Palestinian factions are talking about the possibility of establishing an alternative to the PLO, which is still regarded by many Palestinians as their sole and legitimate representative."
In addition to the extremist groups, a number of prominent Palestinian figures have been invited to the conference in Syria, including estranged and veteran PLO leader Farouk Kaddoumi. The Tunisian-based Kaddoumi, who also serves as secretary-general of Fatah, is an outspoken critic of the Oslo Accords and the current PA leadership under Mahmoud Abbas.
Invitations issued by Hamas and its political allies described the Syria parley as the "Palestinian National Conference for Resisting Schemes Aimed at Liquidating the Palestinian Cause."
"Their declared goal is to foil the Annapolis conference," said another PA official. "What's worrying is that the conference will be held under the auspices of the Syrian regime, which is also unhappy with the US efforts to reach a deal between the Israelis and Palestinians."
The PLO's parliament-in-exile, the Palestine National Council, urged the Syrian authorities to prevent the gathering for fear that it would escalate tensions on the Palestinian arena. The council also warned against attempts to establish a new PLO, "which was built thanks to the sacrifices of our martyrs, first and foremost President Yasser Arafat."
The council accused Hamas of seeking to exploit the conference to divert attention from its violent takeover of the Gaza Strip. "Hamas wants to legitimize its coup in the Gaza Strip through this conference," it said.
"Hamas's attempt to create a new PLO is doomed to failure," said Yusef al-Qazzaz, a senior official with the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation. "Hamas's attempt is aimed at serving the interests of regional powers and won't help the Palestinians achieve independence and freedom," he said. "Hamas's attempt to drive a wedge between our people won't succeed."
Palestinian columnist Omar al-Ghoul said the Syria conference, which will also be attended by Arab and Islamic parties, was primarily aimed at helping Hamas break the state of isolation it has been facing for many months. "The conference in Syria is aimed at consolidating Hamas's rule in the Gaza Strip," he said. "We must not allow this to happen and the PLO must take measures to explain the dangers of this meeting."