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Abbas calls for end to Gaza blockade

Feb. 6, 2013 6:58 P.M. (Updated: Feb. 9, 2013 11:19 P.M.)
CAIRO (Ma'an) -- President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday urged Islamic leaders to end Israel's blockade of Gaza, but criticized official visits to the enclave.

The ongoing siege of Gaza will prolong the conflict with Israel and lead the region to another round of violence, preventing a just and comprehensive peace agreement, Abbas said in a speech at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation summit in Cairo.

He said his Fatah party was working "very honestly" to end its rift with Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip but said world leaders should not treat the enclave as an independent entity.

Supporters of the Palestinian people should differentiate between humanitarian support "which our people in Gaza should receive, and the official political visits to the Gaza Strip which imply that the coastal enclave is a separate entity," the president said.

"We do not accept any visit or policy that represents a violation of the unity of Palestinian representation," Abbas told the assembled dignitaries.

The remarks followed recent visits to Gaza by the emir of Qatar and the prime minister of Malaysia. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, a major sponsor of Hamas, said this week he too would like to visit the territory.

Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani was given red-carpet treatment when he went to Gaza in October, as the first head of state to visit since 1999. Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas prime minister in Gaza, described it as a historic day.

The Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority denounced Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak's Jan. 22 trip there. The president of Tunisia, Moncef Marzouki, had also been due to visit Gaza last month, but cancelled at the request of Abbas.

Ahmadinejad, the first Iranian leader to visit Egypt since Tehran's 1979 Islamic revolution, said he would visit Gaza if allowed.

Abbas said such visits would lead to a "strengthening of the division". The PA had not forgone its responsibilities towards Gaza for a second, he said, adding that it spent more than $130 million a month on salaries and services there.

He said new Palestinian elections would be the quickest way to end the division -- a split which Palestinians feel has badly set back their quest for statehood.

Abbas added that Palestinian factions would meet in Cairo at the weekend to agree procedures for holding such elections. The Islamic summit was due to hold what it described as a special session on Palestine on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Abbas urged the member states of the OIC to support Palestine financially to ease a crisis caused by Israeli policies.

The president highlighted that Israel withheld Palestinian tax revenues, imposed restraints on the Palestinian economy, controlled Palestinian natural resources including ground water and deprived the Palestinian people of working on more than half their agricultural lands.

He said Jerusalem needed special support, noting that an OIC summit in August adopted a strategic plan to develop the city.

"The abusive procedures and policies in Jerusalem are not less brutal and barbarian than the procedures Israeli occupation forces conduct in other Palestinian cities and villages across the West Bank," Abbas said.

In an unfortunate blunder as he thanked the Egyptian president for hosting the summit and supporting the Palestinian people, Abbas mistakenly referred to ousted Hosni Mubarek rather than his successor Mohammad Mursi.

"It pleases me, at the beginning, to offer greetings to Mr President Mohamed Hos ... Mohamed Mursi, the president of the Arab Republic of Egypt," Abbas said.

Mursi, who was jailed under Mubarak's regime, remained stone-faced except for a slight curl of the lip.

Reuters contributed to this report.
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