Abbas challenges Hamas to referendum

At Arafat memorial, Tibi appeals to deceased PA leader to "rise from his grave" and liberate the Palestinians.

abbas hands up 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
abbas hands up 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas paid tribute to his predecessor Yasser Arafat at a Ramallah memorial rally on Tuesday, while challenging Hamas to a referendum. "The Palestinian leadership will continue to lead in the way of Yasser Arafat until a Palestinian state is established with Jerusalem as its capital," he said at the rally commemorating Arafat's death. Abbas added that Fatah had rejected offers made by Israel for concessions which included Palestinian renouncement of parts of Jerusalem and the refugee issue. Furthermore, Abbas maintained that "the Palestinians will not sign any agreement with Israel which will not see the emptying of Palestinian prisoners from its jails." "The ways of the shahids [martyrs] Arafat, Abu Jihad [Khalil Ibrahim al-Wazir], George Habash and even Sheikh Ahmed Yassin - are the ways we recognize. These are the ways in which we are meant to preserve the national interests of the Palestinian people," Abbas told thousands of Fatah supporters who had rallied for the commemoration of the former PA chairman's death. "The Palestinian leadership will not let our fate be decided by external forces," Abbas went on, adding that should Hamas wish to join the ranks of the PLO, it should accept the organization, its institutions and its history and not set conditions. Abbas also said that Hamas is divisive and unpatriotic. He urged Arab nations to hold Hamas responsible for the latest failure in reconciliation talks. His harsh rhetoric made it unlikely there would be a new attempt soon by Egypt to bring the two sides together. Challenging the rival group, he said, "If you are so sure of yourselves, let's go to elections today. And if you do not want elections, let's conduct a referendum." MK Ahmed Tibi (UAL) also spoke at the rally, saying that "all Palestinians miss Arafat and, whereas in the US, a black president was elected, here, racism and fascism continue unabated." Tibi said that the struggle must end with the establishment of Arafat's dream. He appealed to Arafat to "rise from his grave and liberate the Palestinian people." Responding to Tibi's remarks, MK Arye Eldad (NU/NRP) said that he "calls upon the Arab enemies of Israel to join Arafat in his grave. If they don't like it they should drink the sea at Gaza." Meanwhile, Hamas security forces were on high alert due to fears that Fatah would send large crowds into Gaza streets for the commemoration of Arafat's death. Fatah strongly condemned Hamas's ban on the memorial in the Gaza Strip. The Hamas government decided last Thursday to ban Fatah supporters from marking the anniversary and Hamas's security forces arrested dozens of Fatah supporters in southern Gaza in the past few days to prevent them from preparing for the celebrations. Hamas said it would clamp down on rallies not authorized by the group, Israel Radio reported. In the Gaza Strip, Hamas security forces prevented students and youth groups from conducting spontaneous rallies. Witnesses said that in a few instances, Hamas men used force and tore down Fatah flags and photos of Arafat that were hung in homes. One man who refused to take down the photo was taken for interrogation. AP contributed to this report.