Abbas declares desire to end Fatah-Hamas rift

At Arab summit, PA president calls for international and Arab protection for the Palestinians from Israel.

Assad Gadhafi yo yo 224. (photo credit: AP)
Assad Gadhafi yo yo 224.
(photo credit: AP)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday declared his willingness to patch up his differences with Hamas and called for international and Arab protection for the Palestinians who, he said, were being subjected to killings and theft of their land by Israel on a daily basis. Addressing the 20th Arab summit in Damascus, Abbas condemned Israel for its various measures against the Palestinians, warning that such actions would sabotage the peace process. The PLO supported the Yemeni initiative to resolve the Hamas-Fatah dispute and he was prepared to implement it unconditionally and immediately, Abbas said. He called on Hamas to end its "coup" in the Gaza Strip and to agree to hold early legislative and presidential elections as envisaged in the Yemeni plan. "In the past, the Palestinian leadership managed to reach the Mecca agreement [with Hamas in February 2007] as a way to end the blockade on the Gaza Strip and unite the Palestinians," Abbas said. "In spite of this, Hamas carried out its military coup [in June 2007], which posed new challenges to us. The coup has split the Palestinian homeland and given Israel a weapon for political blackmail." Abbas said the PA was continuing to channel funds to the Gaza Strip despite the Hamas takeover, and that 58 percent of its budget went there in the past year. The PA was paying salaries to some 77,000 employees in the Gaza Strip, as compared to 73,000 in the West Bank, he said. The PA had also exempted the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip from paying taxes and health fees, Abbas said. The PA president accused Israel of "brutal" attacks on the Gaza Strip over the past few months aimed at splitting the area from the West Bank. "This Israeli policy is designed to show that peace can't be achieved because the Palestinians are divided," he said. "A just peace can't be achieved unless Israel withdraws from all the Palestinian and Arab territories, a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital is established and the problem of the refugees is solved." Abbas warned that failure to achieve these goals by the end of the year would increase tensions in the region and undermine the credibility of the peace process. He also expressed full support for the Arab peace initiative of 2002 and called on the rest of the Arab world to endorse it. In Gaza City, the Hamas government expressed disappointment with Abbas's speech and accused him of misleading the Arabs. Taher a-Nunu, spokesman for the Hamas government, dismissed Abbas's claim that 58% of the PA budget had gone to the Gaza Strip. The PA had cut off the salaries of thousands of civil servants who agreed to work under the Hamas government, Nunu said. Hamas legislator Salah Bardaweel accused Abbas of succumbing to Israeli and American pressure by refusing to mend fences with Hamas. "Abbas has lost the ability to make a decision without receiving the blessing of the Americans and Israelis," he said. "Abbas's speech was also full of contradictions. On the one hand, he's asking us to abide by the peace process, and on the other hand he's saying that Israel doesn't want peace."