Peace meeting historic opportunity – Abbas

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday hailed a “historic opportunity” for peace as his people marked the third anniversary of the death of his iconic predecessor Yasser Arafat.In a speech before tens of thousands of people in the West Bank political capital of Ramallah, Abbas said he considered a planned peace meeting a “historic opportunity to turn a new page in the history of the Middle East.”

The United States is expected to host the international meeting in Annapolis, Maryland later this year aimed at reviving the Middle East peace process after negotiations led by Arafat collapsed in 2000.

Abbas has vowed to continue through negotiations the struggle for a Palestinian state his predecessor led for nearly four decades, but on the third anniversary of Arafat’s death Palestinians are more divided than ever.

The commemoration of Arafat’s mysterious death in a Paris hospital on November 11, 2004 sees the Palestinian Authority which he set up in 1994 in control of only scattered, autonomous areas of the occupied West Bank.

The Islamist movement Hamas, which opposed Arafat’s policies during his lifetime, seized power in the Gaza Strip in mid-June after routing security forces loyal to his successor and the secular Fateh Party he founded.

Fateh plans to hold a large rally in the Gaza Strip in honour of Arafat on Monday, after Hamas-run police broke up several small demonstrations and arrested a number of Fateh supporters on the day of the anniversary.

On Sunday, Abbas once again called on the movement to hand back control of the volatile coastal strip and reverse what he calls its “military coup,” accusing Hamas of betraying Arafat’s legacy.

“You will not hide the truth of what you have created, the establishment of an isolated entity controlled by a faction that rejects democracy and the values at the heart of our modern struggle,” he said.

Hamas – which opposed Arafat’s policies during his lifetime and vilifies his successor Abbas – nevertheless praised the former leader. “We often agreed with the president Abu Ammar and we often disagreed with him, but in spite of this we consider him a symbol of the Palestinian nation,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum told AFP.

Hamas has consistently opposed the planned peace conference, warning Abbas against making concessions to Israel on core issues of the conflict – borders, refugees, and the fate of Jerusalem.

But, on Sunday, Abbas vowed to hold fast to Palestinian “national rights, which are guaranteed to us under international law.”

Palestinian negotiators blocked at checkpoint

Abbas’ negotiators said they were stopped at an Israeli checkpoint, prompting them to call off talks on Sunday ahead of a US-led conference on Palestinian statehood.

Palestinian officials said chief negotiator Ahmed Qurie and other members of the negotiating team were stopped by Israeli soldiers near Jerusalem while on their way to meet their Israeli counterparts to try to draft a joint statement ahead of the Annapolis, Maryland, conference expected in late November.

“We cannot carry out negotiations like this,” Qurie said. An aide said Qurie informed Israel that he wanted to move the talks to another country. Israeli officials had no immediate comment.

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