Abbas says he'll announce establishment of new gov't, set to be headed by Fayad, within next 48 hrs.
By KHALED ABU TOAMEH
In the first verdict of its kind, a Palestinian Authority court in Nablus on Monday sentenced a Hamas activist to 18 months in prison on charges of plotting a coup against the regime of President Mahmoud Abbas.
Meanwhile, Abbas announced that Fatah would convene its sixth general conference in the West Bank in early July, to pave the way for the ruling faction's first internal elections in 20 years.
The Hamas man sentenced to prison was identified as Muhammad Sliman Qatanani, 33.
PA security sources said he was arrested about 10 months ago on suspicion of illegal possession of weapons and explosives.
During his interrogation, it was learned that Qatanani had also established a number of clandestine Hamas cells in the West Bank with the aim of toppling Abbas's regime, the sources said.
This was the first time that a PA court had sentenced a Hamas activist to prison for conspiring to overthrow the regime.
Officials had claimed in the past that Hamas was continuing its efforts to undermine the PA and extend the Islamist movement's control to the West Bank.
Hamas reacted with fury to the prison sentence, condemning it as a "ridiculous lie."
Fazi Sawaftah, a Hamas representative in the West Bank, described the defendant as a mujahed (holy warrior) and "political prisoner."
The verdict was part of Abbas's attempts to "legitimize" political detentions of Hamas supporters in the West Bank, Sawaftah said.
"Abbas's security forces have failed to prove that Qatanani or other detained Hamas supporters had used weapons against the Palestinian Authority," he added. "This comes as part of the massive and fierce campaign against Hamas and attempts to destroy our movement."
If anyone had been plotting to stage a coup, it was Abbas and his men in Fatah who refused to accept the results of the January 2006 parliamentary election, hampered the work of the Palestinian Legislative Council, torched the offices of Hamas parliament members and the headquarters of the PA prime minister in Ramallah, and fought against the democratically elected Hamas government, Sawaftah said.
Speaking to Fatah members in Ramallah, Abbas announced that the movement would convene its long-awaited sixth general conference on July 1.
The announcement came in response to allegations that Abbas and representatives of the "old guard" in Fatah were deliberately delaying the conference to avoid internal elections that would see the emergence of younger and fresher faces.
Abbas said that about 1,200 Fatah members would attend the conference, which last met in August 1989 in Tunis. He said the gathering would take place either in Jericho or in Bethlehem, but would be called off if Israel prevented Fatah officials from the Gaza Strip and the Arab world from entering the West Bank.
Abbas also declared that he would announce the establishment of a new PA government within 48 hours. The new government is expected to be headed by current Prime Minister Salaam Fayad.
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