(photo credit: AP)
The intra-Palestinian feud spilled out of the Middle East onto the global stage as the Hamas foreign minister boycotted a meeting Monday of the Nonaligned Movement to protest the attendance of his rival from the Fatah faction.
"I can't stand side by side with a man who is not representing the Palestinian government. He is playing a dirty game," Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar of the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority government told The Associated Press.
The boycott has created an embarrassing diplomatic flap for host Malaysia over its decision to include both Zahar and Farouk Kaddoumi, from the Fatah faction of the PLO, at the meeting of foreign ministers and officials of 114 NAM countries. The two-day meeting began earlier Monday.
Speaking to the AP in his hotel not far from the conference center, Zahar also criticized the Malaysian government for inviting Kaddoumi, and called the decision "not acceptable."
Zahar claimed that the Malaysian government had only invited him as the official representative of the meeting, but that Kaddoumi had insisted on showing up.
He acknowledged that the events underscored the rift between the two factions.
"Nobody denies that there is a big division. But who is the judge?" he asked rhetorically before replying: "The people who voted for Hamas and chose their representative."
He said he met with Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar earlier Monday and asked him why Kaddoumi was allowed to come. He said Syed Hamid told him that Kaddoumi insisted on coming.
But Syed Hamid, speaking to reporters earlier, gave a different version of the events. He said Zahar's absence from the meeting is not a boycott.
"He is not boycotting the meeting. I met him in the morning. I had a very good discussion with him," Syed Hamid said.
Malaysia's Foreign Ministry had earlier said that both officials would represent the Palestinian Authority. On arrival in Malaysia, Zahar had even given an interview to the national news agency Bernama, hailing his presence as Hamas' first participation in a high-profile international event.
Syed Hamid said Malaysia had no problems with both officials attending.
"We have no problems in including (Hamas) for the meeting but they have decided not to come," he said.
Ignoring the row caused by Zahar's boycott, Kaddoumi separately told reporters that he included Zahar in his delegation to "train him" in diplomacy.
"I told him I was going to train him and turn over the whole process over to him. He is still a young man. He doesn't have the experience," Kaddoumi said.
Kaddoumi said there are political differences between Fatah and Hamas, but "both of us are fighting, resisting occupation."
"The problem is not with the Hamas. They are good boys. They are fighters. They are our sons. The problem is with Israel."