Abbas wants rival Hamas ousted

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday urged the people of Gaza to oust his Islamist rivals who seized control of the territory in June, as he seeks a lasting peace with Israel.“We must get rid of this clique that took control of the Gaza Strip by force and which is exploiting the suffering and tragedies of our people,” he said in a televised speech from his Ramallah office to mark the 19th anniversary of the symbolic declaration of a Palestinian state.

Hamas routed secular Fateh forces loyal to Abbas in mid-June after a week of ly in Gaza, resulting in the fall of the Hamas-led unity government and a new Western-backed government being formed in the West Bank.

The feuding has split the Palestinians into two separate entities, with Hamas ruling the roost in Gaza and Abbas’ Palestinian Authority administering over parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Abbas denounced what he called “criminal acts by lawless gangs in Gaza where they opened fire in cold on crowds commemorating the third anniversary of the of the martyr Yasser Arafat.”

Eight people were killed in Gaza City on Monday when Hamas police shot at demonstrators after a mass rally to remember the late Palestinian leader who died in a Paris hospital on November 11, 2004.

Abbas’ comments were slammed by Hamas (the Islamic Resistance Movement).

“Hamas is a pillar of the Palestinian people and not a clique that one can simply remove,” it said in a statement.

Abbas also used his speech to reach out to Israel ahead of a peace meeting in the United States expected later this month. “I address the Israeli people and government directly and say that we are determined to agree a real peace with them in the interests of both our future generations,” he said.

“The occupation brings security to nobody. Peace and good neighbourly relations based on equality and respect will bring an end to decades of war, suffering and the spilling of .”

He said the planned meeting in Annapolis, Maryland must mark “a serious and decisive departure point to arrive at a just settlement that would guarantee the rights of our people, who aspire to liberty and independence.

“Our people are determined to create their own state which, with the grace of God, will one day see our territory with Jerusalem as its capital.”

The two sides have been struggling to thrash out an agreed joint document for the conference that would serve as the basis for future negotiations aimed at creating a Palestinian state.

Palestinians want the document to address core issues – borders, the fate of refugees, settlements, and the status of Jerusalem – while Israel prefers a more general statement of shared principles.

Abbas said colonisation of the West Bank by Jewish settlers “must cease completely, the siege must be lifted, prisoners must be allowed home and the cycle of and assassinations must become a thing of the past. “We are capable of building our state alongside Israel for it to become a haven of peace and stability.”

However at a joint news conference later with visiting Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko, Abbas refused to be drawn on a demand by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that Palestinians recognise the Jewish nature of Israel. “Historic Palestine will be divided into two states – Israel and Palestine,” he said. “We do not discuss the character of one or the other.”

On Wednesday, Olmert presented this “Jewish identity” demand as a precondition for progress, with his office saying the issue “is not subject to either negotiations or discussion.”

Also, on Thursday, deposed Palestinian prime minister Ismail Haniyeh promised that his Hamas movement would release rival Fateh members seized in a raid by the Islamist group this week.

In a televised speech, Haniyeh said Hamas would free all the detainees who were not directly involved in inciting against his police.

Fateh says about 450 people were arrested after the Monday rally.

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