Hawatmeh won't attend PLO meeting

DFLP "rejects Israeli conditions" for visit; Mashaal sorry for takeover errors.

Mashaal 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Mashaal 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
The head of the Syria-based Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine will not travel to the West Bank to attend a meeting of the PLO's top policy-making body called for by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, the leader's office in Damascus said Monday. Nayef Hawatmeh has decided not to attend the meeting scheduled in the West Bank city of Ramallah this week, the DFLP said in a statement. The DFLP statement said it "rejects any Israeli conditions" to the visit. On Sunday, Israel said it would allow Hawatmeh to return from exile to attend the PLO session. The DFLP carried out a 1974 raid on a school in the northern town of Ma'alot in which 24 Israelis were killed, most of them children. Four DFLP members - Abu Lyla, Saleh Zaidan, Taysser Khaled and Fahd Suleiman - who live in the Palestinian territories, will attend the meeting instead of their leader, the DFLP statement said. Abbas, who is locked in a bitter power struggle with Hamas, has called for the meeting, during which the PLO's Central Council is expected to be asked to approve Abbas' recent moves against Hamas following its takeover of the Gaza Strip last month. The Palestinian Liberation Organization considers itself the representative of all Palestinians, including those living in exile, but Hamas is not a member. Meanwhile, exiled Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal apologized on Monday for mistakes made during the takeover of the Gaza Strip, saying they were individual acts that do not represent Hamas policies. "What happened, I swear to God and God is a witness, was loathsome for us. But it is like a medicine pill that we were forced to swallow," he said in a speech at an Islamic conference held here. Parts of his speech were broadcast on the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera satellite TV station. Hamas seized control of Gaza in mid-June, following a five-day battle against security forces loyal to the Fatah movement. In response, Abbas fired the Hamas-led coalition government and installed a West Bank-based emergency Cabinet, led by Prime Minister Salaam Fayad, a respected economist. Hamas denounced Abbas's measures as illegal, and said it would not recognize the new government. Following the takeover, Hamas declared a general amnesty for members of the vanquished Fatah movement but since then, at least nine Fatah loyalists have been killed, according to Mezan, an independent Gaza-based human rights group. At least 20 others have been arrested, some of them beaten, with the fate of those seized often left in the hands of Hamas field commanders. Mashaal, who lives in exile in Syria, said he acknowledges mistakes took place, without providing examples or going into details. "I do not deny that some mistakes were made," he said. "They are marginal mistakes made by individuals that do not represent our policies. We apologize to God before apologizing to the people for them," he added. Mashaal said dialogue was the only way out of the current crisis. "The problem is the other side rejects dialogue," he said, referring to Fatah.