Officials: Syria, Iran trying to overthrow Abbas

Palestinian officials tell 'Post' countries continuing to give Hamas millions of dollars and weapons.

Hamas takeover 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Hamas takeover 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Syria and Iran have stepped up their efforts to overthrow Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his ruling Fatah party, PA officials in Ramallah told The Jerusalem Post Monday. The officials accused the Syrians and Iranians of "encouraging" Hamas and other radical Palestinian groups to establish a new organization that would replace the PLO. They also accused the two countries of continuing to provide Hamas and its allies in the Gaza Strip with millions of dollars and weapons. The officials pointed out that in the context of their efforts to overthrow Abbas's regime in the West Bank, Damascus and Teheran have encouraged Hamas and 10 other radical groups to meet in the Syrian capital on January 23 to discuss forming a new PLO and increasing their terror attacks on Israel. "Syria and Iran are working toward undermining the PLO and President Abbas," a senior Palestinian official in Ramallah told the Post. "They want to help Hamas extend its control to the West Bank. They are pouring millions of dollars into Hamas and its friends." Another official told the Post that Abbas has appealed to some Arab countries to use their good offices with Syrian President Bashar Assad to ban the conference. The decision to hold the conference was apparently taken in response to US President George W. Bush's visit to the region last week. The conference, according to Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders, will discuss ways of "developing and reactivating" the PLO. The two Islamist groups have never been part of the PLO, which is dominated by Fatah. Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad have in recent years openly challenged the PLO's claim to be the "sole and legitimate" representative of all Palestinians. Hamas is hoping to name its leader, Khaled Mashaal, as chairman of the new PLO. Hamas and Islamic Jihad have invited several Palestinian groups to attend the conference, including Fatah. However, Fatah officials have turned down the invitation, accusing Damascus and Teheran of using their Palestinian allies to topple Abbas. The two groups have also invited representatives of other groups such as the Popular Resistance Committees, the Popular Front - General Command headed by Ahmed Jibril and Fatah's armed wing, the Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, two groups that are members of the PLO, announced that they would boycott the conference. The two groups said the decision to stay away from the conference was taken to avoid the possibility of being part of a scheme aimed at creating an alternative PLO. Hamas and Islamic Jihad officials said the conference was also being held "to stress the importance of maintaining the option of armed struggle [against Israel] and the right of return for all Palestinian refugees." Islamic Jihad leader Khaled Al-Batsh said the conference's goal was to "thwart American and Zionist schemes" in the aftermath of Bush's visit. "This conference is not aimed at overthrowing anyone," he said. "It's only aimed at foiling the schemes of the Americans and Zionists." A similar conference was due to be held in Damascus to coincide with last November's peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland. But the Syrians, under pressure from the US and some Arab countries, called off the meeting. The planned conference comes amid reports that the PA is considering dissolving the Hamas-dominated Palestinian Legislative Council and calling new elections in the PA territories. At a meeting of PLO and Fatah leaders in Ramallah Sunday night, Abbas said he did not rule out the possibility of holding new parliamentary elections. He also strongly condemned Hamas, dubbing Khaled Mashaal a "liar." In response, Hamas legislator Yahya Musa condemned Abbas as an "evil liar," adding that the PA president no longer cared about the interests of his people. He also denied Abbas's claim that Hamas had tried to assassinate him.