'Hamas blew chance to end sanctions'

Solana praises PA chairman; Abbas aides say he must dismiss gov't.

solana abbas 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
solana abbas 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Hamas has squandered an opportunity to end the international sanctions imposed on the Palestinian Authority, EU Foreign Policy chief Javier Solana said Saturday. Hamas, for its part, accused PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas of succumbing to US and Israeli pressure to halt talks with the Islamist movement over the formation of a unity government and warned against staging a "coup" against the Hamas-led government. "I can say that Hamas had an offer by the president [Abbas] and I think it was a very generous offer," Solana told reporters after meeting with Abbas in Gaza City. "It is an offer that would have resolved many of the problems facing the Palestinian people, and unfortunately that offer has not been accepted." While Abbas was holding meetings with European officials, hundreds of PA police fought with a local clan for six hours in the streets of Gaza City near Abbas's official residence, security officials said. Eleven people were wounded in the gunbattle. Solana praised Abbas for his efforts and assured him that the EU would support him as he explored other means of ending the crisis. "[Abbas] has made a tremendous effort to try and build the possibility of a national unity government," Solana said. "It has been difficult and it has been impossible and therefore he has to take another decision, and I can say very clearly that he can count on us in those decisions." Referring to the breakdown of the unity government talks between Abbas and Hamas, Solana said, "We believe that the responsibility for this failure is not on the president. It is the failure of the others." At the press conference with Solana, Abbas expressed regret over the failure of the unity talks, saying he was "studying options that would end our people's suffering." Although Abbas did not specify the options he was considering, his aides said he had no choice but to dismiss the Hamas-led government and form a new one. Abbas said he also briefed Solana on the cease-fire with Israel and called on the EU to help extend it to the West Bank. "Today we talked about the future and how to revive the peace process on the basis of the road map," he said. Fatah legislator and former security chief Muhammad Dahlan, who participated in the talks with Solana, said Hamas had interpreted Abbas's conciliatory approach during the unity government talks as a sign of weakness. "President Abbas will now have to make decisions that he avoided making in the past," Dahlan said. "He spent the last six months negotiating with Hamas, but the last two months were the most difficult. President Abbas made too many concessions at the expense of Fatah, but now that has stopped." On Friday, the PLO executive committee called on the Hamas-led government to resign so a new government can be formed. The committee meeting came a day after Abbas declared that talks with Hamas on forming a unity government had reached a dead end. Abbas's announcement was made following his meeting in Jericho with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. "The executive committee stressed the necessity of implementing this step before beginning any new dialogue over a new government," the panel said in a statement. Muhammad Nazzal, a Syrian-based Hamas leader, pointed out that this was not the first time that Abbas had declared the breakdown of the talks. He said Abbas made a similar statement after meeting with Rice in New York two months ago. "This proves that the Palestinians can't make their own decisions and that regional and international parties are trying to influence our process of decision-making," he said. Nazzal blamed Abbas for the collapse of the talks, saying Hamas had gone as far as agreeing to relinquish control over the premiership and the key Foreign Affairs and Interior ministries. The fighting in Gaza City started about 3 p.m. when police tried to arrest several members of the Abu Amra family for drug and weapons smuggling and for stealing government land. Members of the family, which lives in large, Beduin-style tents on government land near Abbas's residence, counterattacked with assault rifles and rocket propelled grenades, security officials said. Police, some of them masked, took over five rooftops during the running street battles that left seven policemen and two clan members wounded. Security officials said police arrested 16 suspects and confiscated stolen vehicles and other property. The street emptied of civilians as police officers sought cover behind cars. Members of a Hamas militia also joined the police effort to arrest the family members, security officials said. The medical school at Al Azhar University also came under attack during the battle. AP contributed to this report.