Abbas hails efforts toward Gaza truce, but PA fears having authority undermined

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared his support on Sunday for Egypt's efforts to achieve a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. He also said his recent visit to the US had not achieved anything. "The truce is a national interest of all Palestinians," Abbas said after meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Sharm e-Sheikh. "A truce will alleviate the suffering of our people and pave the way for the reopening of the border crossings [into the Gaza Strip]." However, PA officials in Ramallah expressed fear that a truce between Hamas and Israel would undermine Abbas's authority. The officials warned against "legitimizing" Hamas's violent takeover of the Gaza Strip. "The Palestinian Authority must not be excluded from any security arrangements in the Gaza Strip, especially regarding the Rafah border crossing," said one official. "The world must remember that Hamas seized power [in the Gaza Strip] illegally and through violent means." Another official quoted Abbas as telling Mubarak that Egypt must exert pressure on Hamas to cede control over the Gaza Strip and allow the PA security forces to return. Abbas also briefed Mubarak on the outcome of his visit to Washington last week, where he held talks with President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. "We are still negotiating [with Israel] over the final-status issues," Abbas said. "We asked Bush for two things: to work toward stopping settlement construction and to declare his support for a Palestinian state on all the lands occupied in 1967." Hamas said, meanwhile, that Egypt would have to reopen the Rafah border crossing if Israel rejected the Egyptian truce initiative. Hamas legislator Salah Bardaweel said the Egyptians had promised his movement that Cairo would ease restrictions on the Palestinians if they accepted the truce. Mahmoud Zahar, a top Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, said Israel's refusal to accept the truce proposal was tantamount to a declaration of war. "Hamas is ready for this option and all other options," he said. "A mutual truce is in the interest of the parties, including Israel."