Arab foreign ministers meet on Palestinian rift

Amr Moussa: Arabs should not accept "political vacuum" in PA and not "tolerate a division in the Palestinian ranks."

saeb erekat 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
saeb erekat 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Arab foreign ministers met in Cairo Wednesday to work out how to deal with Hamas after the militant group rejected reconciliation talks aimed at ending the division between the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The meeting comes three days after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah movement controls the West Bank, threatened to call elections early next year if his Hamas rivals controlling Gaza don't open reconciliation talks - an ultimatum that could deepen the rift. Arab League's Amr Moussa who called the Wednesday emergency meeting said Arabs should not accept any "political vacuum" in Palestinian Authority and not "tolerate a division in the Palestinian ranks." Hamas has rejected Abbas' threat to call the elections, widely seen as an effort to pressure the Islamic militant group and pave the way for Abbas to restore his authority over Gaza. According to diplomats at the meeting in Cairo, Abbas is pressuring Arab countries to punish Hamas for its refusal to give up control of the Mediterranean strip. They say, however, that the Arab stand is not unified and that some countries, such as Qatar and Syria, favor a softer approach to accommodate the militant movement. The diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks, said Moussa also made it clear he would not support any condemnation or isolation of Hamas at this point. Syria has proposed that the meeting discuss plans to end the Israeli economic blockade on Gaza, a key Hamas demand. Ismail Radwan, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, said the Cairo meeting should come to a clear Arab decision to break Israel's blockade of Gaza. The blockade was imposed in retaliation for Hamas' lobbying rockets into Israel. Meanwhile, a Palestinian lawmaker in Gaza said that a boat laden with humanitarian aid has left Libya and will try to reach Gaza - the first attempt by an Arab country to break the Israeli naval blockade. Independent legislator Jamal Khoudari says the ship left the Libyan port of Zawara on Wednesday morning carrying food, medicines, blankets and powdered milk for Gazans. Egypt's foreign minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, whose nation sponsored the failed Palestinian reconciliation talks, was to address the gathering in Cairo and detail "the real picture," according to his spokesman, Hossam Zaki. Hamas and Fatah have been bitter rivals and their confrontation escalated after Hamas fighters violently seized control of Gaza in June 2007. Abbas, who controls only the West Bank, enjoys backing from the international community, while the Hamas regime in Gaza is widely shunned. Repeated attempts at reconciliation have failed, most recently this month when Hamas abruptly canceled its participation in Egyptian-mediated talks in Cairo. The Arab ministers are also expected to discuss the stalled Middle East peace talks.