Fateh, Hamas in unity talks, Katsav faces rape charges

news34.jpgRAMALLAH — Fateh and Hamas met again in Gaza last night to discuss forming a unity government while a number of incidents across the occupied Palestinian territory provided ample evidence of the state of lawlessness Palestinians are struggling with.

In Nablus, a French diplomat and his two bodyguards were seized by the Fateh-affiliated Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades. The French embassy since confirmed the abduction. The three were ostensibly abducted because the two armed bodyguards raised suspicions that the three were undercover Israeli agents.

A statement from the French embassy was optimistic that the incident would be cleared up quickly. Later in the day, the diplomat and his bodyguards were released. A spokesman for Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades said weapons carried by the bodyguards had initially raised suspicions the men were undercover Israeli soldiers.

In Gaza, armed men, who identified themselves as Al Qaeda, blew up an empty holiday resort in Gaza, apparently in a message to Fateh strongman, Mohammad Dahlan.

According to the resort’s guard, the men asked whether the building belonged to Dahlan before partly destroying it with explosives. They told the guard that “Al Qaeda has arrived in Gaza and we will destroy every place owned by Dahlan and bomb him, too”, Reuters reported.

There has never been any hard evidence of the existence of an Al Qaeda-affiliated group in Gaza, though Israeli intelligence services have on numerous occasions maintained that Al Qaeda is a growing presence there.

Dahlan yesterday said he had no connection to the Waha resort, a beachfront building used for weddings and other occasions.

Unity negotiations, meanwhile, were set to continue last night in Gaza, where Hamas and Fateh negotiators hope to build on the momentum of the meeting Sunday in Damascus between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas politburo chief Khaled Mishaal.

Fateh’s Maher Miqdad said he was hopeful that the new talks would actually prove fruitful.

“We are optimistic that the dialogue will succeed this time, despite our bitter experience with Hamas in the past,” Miqdad told AFP.

“Fateh’s position is that it is ready to participate in any ministry in any government, and we will support this government on the condition that it is able to lift the siege and that it has an acceptable national programme,” he added

Earlier, Palestinian journalists staged a sit-in strike outside the parliament building to demand better protection for journalists and vowed not to cover the resumption of the talks.

The one-day strike comes after the bombing Monday evening of the offices of Al Arabiya satellite channel. No one had been in the building when the explosives went off, after staff had received several threats in the days leading up to the bombing.

The threats started after Al Arabiya aired footage of Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, apparently quoting him out of context. Hamas has denied any involvement in the bombing.

Israeli president to be charged

Elsewhere, Israeli Attorney General Menachem Mazuz yesterday decided to bring formal charges against the country’s president, Moshe Katsav.

Katsav faces charges on four counts of rape, obstruction of justice, fraud and illegal wiretapping. The charges have been lingering for nearly three months while the Israeli justice ministry determined whether there was enough evidence to proceed.

Katsav denies any wrongdoing and as of yesterday was still refusing to resign. As president, he can only be put on trial if impeached by the Israeli parliament or if he resigns. When news of the accusations first surfaced last year, he had vowed to resign if formal charges were brought.

His term is due to end in July of this year, and he may be hoping to hang on until the end, though it is unlikely that he will be able to survive.

With Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert facing a police probe into his role in the 2005 privatisation of one of Israel’s largest banks, the top two politicians in Israel are now under criminal investigation.

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