Abbas: 'Iran trying to deepen Palestinian rift'

PA president blasts Teheran after meeting Clinton; sec. of state slams Israel for e. J'lem home demolitions.

clinton fayad ramallah 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
clinton fayad ramallah 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas criticized Iran on Wednesday, charging that it was trying to "deepen the Palestinian split." Talking to reporters after meeting US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Ramallah, Abbas said that "Iran needs to take care of its own issues and stay away from intervening in Palestinian affairs." Meanwhile, in the only publicly discordant note toward Israel during her two-day visit, Clinton said that Israel's demolition of homes in east Jerusalem was "unhelpful" and not in keeping with the road map peace plan. Clinton, at a press conference in Ramallah after meeting Abbas, was asked about approval given in the last two weeks for the demolition of 143 homes in east Jerusalem. Clearly, Clinton said, "this kind of activity is unhelpful and not in keeping with the obligations entered into under the road map." She said she would raise the issue both with the Israeli government and the Jerusalem Municipality, adding that "the ramifications go far beyond the individuals and the families that have received the notices you referenced." One senior government official said that Israel understood the "sensitivity of the house demolition issue for the Palestinians, and that Israel tries to take into consideration Palestinian concerns." The official said that when a demolition order is carried out, it is only after the legal system has made such a move mandatory. Hatem Abdul Qader, a Palestinian official on Jerusalem affairs, said Israel had issued a new order to demolish five residential buildings containing 55 apartments. "It's an open demographic war," he said. He said lawyers have challenged the orders, halting the demolitions until March 10. But Stephan Miller, a spokesman for the Jerusalem Municipality, said the buildings targeted by the demolition notice were empty and had been built illegally. The Jerusalem Municipality issued a statement saying that the claim about the demolitions was "disinformation and the cynical exploitation" of Clinton's visit. According to the statement, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat is intent on implementing the law equally throughout the city. As such, the statement said, administrative orders to stop the construction of structures that have not received the proper approval have been issued throughout the city to those who did not stop construction when ordered to do so. The statement said that since January, 11 demolitions have been carried out in west Jerusalem, and 17 in east Jerusalem. Palestinians claim they cannot receive proper building permits from Israeli authorities, and that the demolitions were meant to assert Israel's control over the city. Clinton, who met Abbas and PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad in Ramallah, was full of praise for the two men, and stressed that the US viewed the PA "as the only legitimate government of the Palestinian people." During her comments she did not touch on the current reconciliation talks between Hamas and Fatah, and what US policy toward the PA would be were Hamas to enter the government without recognizing Israel's existence, swearing off terrorism, or accepting previous agreements. Clinton reiterated, as she did a day before in public statements in Jerusalem, the US support for a Palestinian state alongside Israel that would be a "responsible partner, is at peace with Israel and its Arab neighbors, and is accountable to its people." Clinton pledged that the Obama administration would be "vigorously engaged in efforts to forge a lasting peace between Israel, the Palestinians, and all of the Arab neighbors. I will remain personally engaged. As I said in Sharm e-Sheikh, this is a commitment that I carry in my heart, not just in my portfolio as secretary of state." US Middle East envoy George Mitchell will be coming back to the region as soon as prime minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu forms a government, Clinton said, adding that "We believe that there will be very constructive talks with the new Netanyahu government." During their talks, Abbas and Clinton discussed the future of Hamas-ruled Gaza. Clinton said at the press conference that the US wanted "humanitarian aid to get into Gaza in sufficient amounts to alleviate the suffering of the people in Gaza." She stopped well short, however, of calling for a full opening of the crossings, something both European and UN officials have been doing in recent days. In Gaza, the Hamas government condemned Clinton's comments. Spokesman Taher Nunu said her statement "was a slap in the face of those who were expecting changes in America foreign policy. She did not bring anything new. Instead, her statements show bias to the Zionist enemy." In addition to her meetings in Ramallah, Clinton - as she did a day earlier in Jerusalem - squeezed a non-diplomatic event into her schedule, meeting with students participating in a special English-language study program funded by the State Department. Clinton left Israel in the afternoon for an informal meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers in Brussels on Thursday. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is also attending that conference, and will meet EU counterparts to discuss the situation in the Gaza Strip, the Durban II conference, and other regional developments. AP contributed to this report.