Thu, Oct 05, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Talks with Hamas `over now': Abbas

BREAKDOWN Attempts to form a moderate coalition government involving Hamas and Fatah broke down as factional violence escalated and fears of civil war loomed


Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said yesterday that talks with Hamas on forming a more moderate coalition government have broken down.

Abbas also said a new Cabinet must be formed to end a recent surge in violence.

"There is no dialogue now," Abbas said at a news conference with Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa.

A preliminary coalition agreement announced on Sept. 11 "is over now, and we have to start from square one," he said.

On Tuesday, gunmen linked to Abbas' Fatah movement had threatened to assassinate leaders of the rival Hamas group -- signaling a further escalation after 10 Palestinians were killed in three days of fighting between Hamas and Fatah.

The violence was the worst since Hamas took office in March and heightened fears of a full-scale civil war.

The fighting came after efforts to bring Fatah into the government broke down last week.

At the same time, Israel kept up its pressure on Palestinian militants with two airstrikes on Tuesday night.

The first, in northern Gaza, destroyed two vehicles carrying Islamic Jihad and Fatah militants, wounding five, Palestinian security officials said. The Israeli military said it was targeting militants involved in rocket attacks on the nearby Israeli town of Sderot.

Later, Israeli aircraft destroyed a house in Khan Younis. Palestinians said it belonged to a Hamas commander. The military said it hit a weapons storehouse. No one was hurt.

Abbas, who had hoped a broader and more moderate coalition would end an international aid boycott of the Hamas government, is running out of options to end the crisis.

Abbas had considered calling early elections, but a new poll on Tuesday indicated Fatah would tie with Hamas if a vote were held now. The poll also indicated that voters consider Abbas less trustworthy than Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas.

Despite the tense deadlock in the Palestinian territories, the US and a few Arab states were making a new push to revive peace talks between Israels and Palestinians.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the foreign minister of Bahrain, Sheik Khalid Bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa, were to hold separate talks with Abbas yesterday.

Rice was meeting eight Arab allies on Tuesday in Cairo and was expected to ask them to shore up Abbas -- at the expense of Hamas.

Haniyeh called on Arab states not to cooperate with Rice's efforts.

"It looks like [secretary] Rice is adopting the old practice of divide and conquer," Haniyeh told reporters in Gaza. "She wants to weaken the states and the nations of the region," he added.

"We call on all of the Arab countries not to follow the [US] plans and not to adopt this policy that aims to divide the region," Haniyeh said.

The threat to kill Hamas leaders was made in a statement by the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a violent Fatah offshoot. A caller reading from the statement said that Al Aqsa would try to assassinate Interior Minister Said Siyam, Hamas militia chief Youssef Zahar and the group's supreme leader in exile, Khaled Mashaal.

"We are going to implement the rule of the people and the revolution by executing the heads of this seditious group," the caller said.

The latest round of fighting began on Sunday, when Hamas militiamen used force to put down protests by civil servants and members of the security forces who demanded payment of salaries.

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