Hamas MPs challenge Abbas with Parliament session in Gaza

Hamas members of the Palestinian Parliament held a session of the assembly in Gaza on Wednesday in a challenge to the West Bank-based administration of President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah. Meanwhile in 20071172229530_1-palestine.jpgIsrael, the Supreme Court gave the government one week to prove that electricity and fuel cuts to the isolated Gaza Strip will not lead to a humanitarian crisis, human-rights groups said.

No members of Fatah or any other parliamentary bloc attended the session. Hamas took over Gaza in fighting with Fatah in June, and Abbas fired the Islamist movement’s leader Prime Minister Ismail Haniyya. Hamas calls his dismissal illegal.

At the parliamentary session, the first in months, legislators held photographs of 40 fellow Hamas lawmakers jailed by Israel.

“We hoped this session could be an introduction to restoring unity among the Palestinian people,” Haniyya told the gathering of 29 Hamas members of Parliament in Gaza.

Six other Hamas MPs listened in on the session by telephone from the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Azzam al-Ahmad, head of Fatah’s parliamentary bloc, argued that no party had the legal right to call an ordinary session before the legislature held its annual opening meeting – an event delayed indefinitely since June’s brief civil war in Gaza.

At the Gaza session, the Hamas members warned Abbas against making concessions at a US-sponsored Middle East conference on Palestinian statehood expected to be held later this month in Annapolis, Maryland.

Haniyya accused the United States of working to destroy Palestinian democracy and “undermine every beautiful thing in this region.”

The United States has expressed hope that Arab neighbor states will also join the conference, but has yet to issue the invitations.

Syria’s Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah al-Dardari  said on Wednesday that any invitation must confirm that the future of the Occupied Golan Heights will be on the agenda,

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Tuesday that the peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland had been scheduled for November 26.

“Syria has not yet been invited,” Dardari told BBC radio. “And when such an invitation, and if such an invitation should come, it should include an agenda with the Golan Heights clearly placed on that agenda.

If not, whey should we be there in Annapolis?”

Asked whether the conference could achieve any kind of peace deal without Syria, Dardari said: “Definitely not … No peace without Syria in the Middle East.

Olmert said on Tuesday he expected the United States would invite Syria, calling the participation of Israel’s long-time nemesis appropriate.

The Israeli premier made no mention of any preconditions for Syrian attendance but appeared to issue a cautionary note to Damascus not to try to push the future of the Golan Heights, which Israel has occupied since the1967 war, on to the meeting’s agenda.

But Dardari said he had not seen enough to suggest Washington was serious about achieving peace.

“Can it happen in Annapolis? With what we have seen until now, we have not seen serious moves by the US administration to ensure a comprehensive settlement,” he said.

“And without a comprehensive settlement, peace will not take place in our region.”

Also on Wednesday, the Israeli Supreme Court gave the government extra time to legitimize a resolution that would collectively punish Gazans for rocket fire from militants by cutting of all electricity on the coastal strip.

The ruling came in response to a petition lodged by 10 Israeli and Palestinian rights watchdogs protesting against the cuts on the grounds that they were already harming the territory’s civilian population.

“The court gave the state one week to explain how it would verify the consequences of diminishing the electricity and fuel supply to the Gaza Strip,” the 10 rights groups said in a joint statement.

“In light of the court’s comments and in light of the current damage to civil infrastructure, the petitioners … expect the state to refrain from future cuts in the fuel supply.”

The groups, which include B’Tselem, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights charge that the cuts which began late last month are already causing damage to Gaza’s infrastructure.

“Due to the lack of fuel to pump the water from the wells, at any given time 15 percent of the population in the Gaza Strip are not receiving an adequate amount of running water to their homes,” the petitioners said.

“Even if the current, diminished supply of fuel remains the same, the percentage of population that is not receiving clean water will continue to increase,” they said.

Israel began reducing the amount of fuel it supplies to the Gaza Strip on October 28, a month after it declared the

territory a “hostile entity” in response to frequent but rarely lethal rocket and mortar fire by militants. The move has been international criticized.

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