Abbas meets Islamic Jihad head in Syria

Sources: Ramadan Salah urges PA president to suspend peace talks, offers to mediate with Hamas.

abbas ramadan salah 224  (photo credit: AP)
abbas ramadan salah 224
(photo credit: AP)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met in Damascus Monday with the head of the Islamic Jihad organization, Ramadan Abdullah Shalah, and discussed efforts to achieve "national unity" in the Palestinian territories. The meeting was the first if its kind between the two in many months and comes against the backdrop of Abbas's ongoing efforts to win support for his most recent initiative to end the ongoing Fatah-Hamas crisis. Islamic Jihad is one of the few Palestinian factions that has refused to sign on to the cease-fire agreement reached between Hamas and Israel more than two weeks ago. However, Islamic Jihad officials said the group would "respect" the cease-fire as long as Israel refrained from targeting its members in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Monday's meeting in Damascus was attended by Islamic Jihad officials Ziad al-Nakhaleh and Muhammed al-Hindi as well as Ahmed Qurei [Abu Ala], head of the PA negotiating team with Israel. Sources close to Islamic Jihad said the group's leaders had urged Abbas and Qurei to suspend the peace talks with Israel under the pretext that the Israeli government was not serious about achieving peace with the Palestinians. "The Islamic Jihad leaders made it clear that the talks with Israel are ineffective and a waste of time," the sources said. "They pointed out that Israel's policy of expanding settlements and building new homes in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem was a sign of its bad intentions." The Islamic Jihad leaders also offered to mediate between Fatah and Hamas to solve the crisis on the Palestinian arena, the sources said. They added that Abbas had agreed to release Islamic Jihad prisoners held in PA jails in the West Bank and to stop pursuing members of the group. Earlier, Abbas met with leaders of other radical Palestinian factions, including the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and briefed them on his initiative to hold "national dialogue" among all Palestinian factions and end the schism between Hamas and Fatah. Hamas, meanwhile, accused Abbas of succumbing to US pressure not to meet with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal during the PA president's two-day visit to Syria. Hamas said that Abbas had turned down a request by President Bashar Assad to meet with Mashaal after being warned by the US administration. "[US Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice delivered a warning to Abbas against meeting with Mashaal," said Muhammed Nazzal, a senior Hamas official. "Abbas wasn't able to resist the pressure." Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar on Monday denied reports his movement was prepared to cede control over security installations in the Gaza Strip in return for the formation of a Hamas-Fatah unity government. Zahar said Hamas would not hand back the security headquarters to Abbas's forces unless they reformed themselves and stopped cooperating with Israel.