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Abbas: I'll go straight to Gaza

March 21, 2011 8:45 P.M. (Updated: March 23, 2011 1:24 P.M.)
BUDAPEST, Hungary (Ma'an) -- President Mahmoud Abbas said Monday he would break engagements in Europe and head to Gaza immediately for unity talks with Hamas, if the Islamist movement agrees.

Gaza premier Ismail Haniyeh invited Abbas for talks on Wednesday, amid huge youth protests across the West Bank and Gaza Strip demanding national unity. The president accepted the invitation the same day.

In a CNN interview broadcast Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the initiative, and said Palestinian national unity would be the end of the peace process.

Speaking at a meeting with Arab ambassadors in Budapest, Abbas said if Israel prevented his entry to Gaza through its border, he would enter from Egypt.

"If the Israelis won't allow me to visit Gaza through the Erez crossing, I will go via the Rafah crossing. In fact I am ready to break my visit to Hungary and head to Gaza immediately if Hamas agrees."

Youth continue to protest for unity

The initiative for Abbas' visit came amid mass youth protests demanding an end to the division between Abbas' Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and the Hamas-led government in the Gaza Strip

A loose coalition of youth groups -- the March 15 movement -- organized the rallies, which started Tuesday. Demonstrators are still protesting in cities across the Palestinian territories, and say they won't stop until the national division ends.

The March 15 youth movement is calling for elections to end the national division, which has badly damaged the Palestinian national movement.

President dismisses skeptics

Several Hamas leaders have raised doubts about whether Abbas genuinely intends to go to Gaza, suggesting that the initiative was a tactical ploy.

The president dismissed the claims and said his visit to the coastal enclave would prove skeptics wrong. Abbas has not set foot in Gaza since Hamas ousted Fatah from the coastal enclave in 2007 in violent clashes which neared civil war.

"Some are suspicious and others think it is a tactic, but I say before the ambassadors of Arab countries that I want reconciliation, a caretaker government and then elections under Arab, Islamic and international supervision."

Abbas reiterated that he would not run in the next elections, saying that he never imagined being president of the PA in the first place.

"After I resigned as prime minister during Yasser Arafat’s presidency, I left politics and sat at home for a year and a half. Then Fatah's leadership asked me to run for the presidency and I won. However, I will never hesitate to leave and go home if there is an agreement to hold elections. I don't want to run again."

Iran is not our enemy

Regarding Palestinian developments, Abbas told the ambassadors the US had failed to pressure Israel, and that this had resulted in the stagnation of the peace process.

He reminded the officials that the US vetoed a UN resolution condemning Israel's illegal settlement building on occupied Palestinian land.

The US only offered promises, the president said, while Israel used Iran as a pretext to continue its occupation of Palestine.

"Since [President Barack] Obama came to office, we tried our best to move the peace process forward and to freeze settlement construction. We proposed all our ideas to Obama’s administration, but that was in vain.

"All we got was Netanyahu telling us that Israel could not withdraw from the Jordan Valley because they fear attacks from Iran. And so Israeli forces must stay there for another 40 years."

"I told [Netanyahu] that Iran was not an enemy to the Palestinians or Arabs and that Israel only used Iran as a pretext,” Abbas added.

'Palestine won't interfere in affairs of other countries'

Asked about unrest in the Middle East, Abbas refused to comment, and said the PA had no official position on the internal affairs of other countries.

"Internal reforms are internal matters for every country and we won't interfere in the internal affairs of governments and their peoples."

He reminded the ambassadors that Palestine's support for Iraq during its invasion of Kuwait had been disastrous for Palestinians.

"This experience had a negative impact on Palestinians for many years."
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