Ismail Haniyeh during a 'cabinet meeting' he held on June 19
The Islamists of Hamas accused the West on June 19 of playing politics with Palestinian aid as the US and Israeli leaders pledged to support the government in the West Bank whose forces they ousted from Gaza last week.
US President George W. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert both gave strong backing to the emergency cabinet appointed by moderate president Mahmud Abbas after Hamas's takeover of Gaza as they held their third Washington talks in barely a year. Bush said he hoped Abbas and his new US-educated Prime Minister Salam Fayyad "will be strengthened to the point where they can lead the Palestinians in a different direction." Olmert said: "I want to strengthen the moderates and cooperate" with Abbas, and raised the prospect of an easing of security controls in the occupied West Bank as well as the release of hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenues owed to the Palestinian Authority.
The White House talks came a day after both the United States and the European Union restored direct aid to the Palestinian Authority, suspended when Hamas took power after a shock parliamentary election victory over Abbas's secular Fatah faction early last year.
Hamas still refuses to recognise Abbas's dismissal of the national unity government it led until June 14 and accused the West of trying to manipulate Palestinian public opinion.
"By announcing their political and financial support for the Palestinian Authority, the West is backing an illegitimate government," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri charged. Western support for Fayyad's government was "an attempt to manipulate the Palestinian people and distance it from Hamas," he charged, adding that the strategy would not work. Hamas's seizure of Gaza after vicious street battles with Fatah loyalists that left more than 110 people dead has driven a deep wedge in Palestinian society.
Abbas's government is based in his West Bank stronghold while Hamas is in control of Gaza, a tiny overcrowded territory that imports nearly all its food and supplies and where most people depend on international aid. The Palestinian president is due to give a keynote speech on Wednesday charting the political future but the events of the past week have effectively cut the Palestinian territories in two and dimmed the dream of an independent state alongside Israel.
Israel has allowed 12 truckloads of food and medicines to cross into Gaza in the first real easing of the blockade it imposed after Hamas's takeover. The army also allowed five seriously wounded Palestinians to be brought to Israel for treatment but maintained its refusal to allow hundreds of Gazan asylum-seekers stranded in no-man's land to cross to the occupied West Bank.
Ten trucks of food and two of medical supplies were delivered to Gaza through international organisations at the southern Kerem Shalom checkpoint, Israeli military spokesman Shlomo Dror said. "This is the first time we've managed to bring supplies... It went very well," Dror told AFP, saying that possibilities of shipping aid by sea or parachute into the Gaza Strip had earlier been discounted as alternatives. He said the aid was delivered without contact with Hamas, which Israel boycotts as a terrorist organisation.
June 19's trucks were the first to drive into the Gaza Strip since Israel sealed Gaza's borders in the wake of Hamas's takeover, sparking fears of a humanitarian disaster for the territory's 1.5 million people. Several hundred Palestinians are camping out in miserable conditions at the Erez border crossing with Israel, desperate to flee feared retribution by Hamas militants. "If we can't get to the West Bank, give us political asylum in an Arab country, in Europe, in the United States. Anywhere," shouted desperate civil servant Amr.
The Israeli army said it was providing the asylum-seekers with food and water but would not admit them to the occupied West Bank for fear there were militants among them who had engaged in attacks against Israel. But it did allow five seriously wounded Gazans to be evacuated to Israel for treatment.
The Israeli prime minister said the appointment of Fayyad's government could pave the way for revived peace talks after seven years of stalemate. "I am going to make every possible effort to move forward to see how things can be worked jointly, in order to provide Palestinians a real, genuine chance for a state of their own," he said.
But Egypt, which had been due to host a meeting later this month of the main players in the peace process, said the session had been put off, probably until mid-July, because of the uncertainties on the Palestinian side. "It was not realistic to meet to talk about reviving a lasting peace process before we have a clearer idea of the Palestinian crisis," an Egyptian diplomat told AFP. (Courtesy: yahoo.com, June 19, 2007)
Hamas claims US, EU are blackmailing Palestinians
By Khaled Abu Toameh
Hamas leaders said on June 19 that the US and EU decision to fund the government of Salaam Fayad won't succeed in removing Hamas from power.
Meanwhile, a prominent Muslim leader from the Gaza Strip was appointed Tuesday as social welfare and agriculture minister in Fayad's cabinet. Sheikh Mahmoud Habbash said he had agreed to join Fayad's cabinet because he felt that he had to carry out his "national duty at this very sensitive and difficult stage."
"The decision to lift the financial and political embargo on the Palestinian Authority is part of a conspiracy against Hamas and the Palestinian people," said Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
"The Americans and Europeans are trying to blackmail the Palestinians by providing financial aid only to Fayad's government. They have been trying to remove Hamas from power since 2006, but without success." Abu Zuhri criticized the West for employing double standards in dealing with the Palestinians. "They are refusing to accept the results of a free and democratic election that brought Hamas to power," he said. "Instead, they are now supporting the illegitimate government of Fayad." In response to reports that some Arab countries were worried about the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip, Abu Zuhri urged the Arab world to refrain from siding with one Palestinian party against the other.
"The Arab world appears to be divided over the last developments in the Gaza Strip," he added. "Some countries have remained neutral, arguing that the world must accept the choice of the Palestinians. However, there are some Arab countries that are continuing to meddle in Palestinian affairs by supporting one side against the other.
Abu Zuhri also denied reports that Egypt had decided to move its diplomatic mission from the Gaza Strip to Ramallah.
Egyptian diplomats and security officials based in the Gaza Strip were summoned to Cairo following last week's developments.
He also denied reports that Egypt has cut off all its ties with Hamas, noting that the head of Egypt's General Intelligence Force, Gen. Omar Suleiman, was continuing to talk to Syria-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal.
Another Hamas leader, Khalil al-Hayah, on Tuesday expressed his movement's readiness to resume talks with Fatah to resolve the current crisis. He said Hamas had not planned to take over the Gaza Strip.
"Hamas did not have any plans to stage a coup against the Palestinian Authority," he said. "The only problem we had was a group of American and Zionist agents who were torching houses and attacking mosques in the Gaza Strip." The Fatah leadership decided on Tuesday to cut off all links with Hamas following the violent clashes in the Gaza Strip.
Nabil Abu Rudaineh, a spokesman for the PA leadership, said there would be no dialogue with Hamas because it has broken the law. "They were behind the military coup in Gaza," he said. "Before any dialogue, Hamas must withdraw its armed people from all the places they occupied and give back the power to the legitimate authority."
Mahmoud Zahar, a former Hamas foreign minister, said the Gaza Strip was witnessing a period of calm and stability for the first time since the establishment of the PA in 1994. "The border crossings have reopened and are functioning and there is no shortage in fuel and food," he said.
Zahar pointed out that the state of anarchy and lawlessness had moved from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank, where Fatah militiamen were waging a campaign against Hamas institutions and figures. "If these attacks continue, Hamas will be forced to take measures to defend its representatives there," he cautioned. "There are many people in Fatah who are opposed to [Fatah operative] Muhammad Dahlan and Hamas will support them."
Zahar said the only way out of the current crisis was by resuming negotiations between Hamas and Fatah. "Either we return to the dialogue between us or we maintain the status quo and [formalize] the separation between the West Bank and Gaza Strip," he said. "There is no third option. If [Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud] Abbas wants dialogue, then he must rescind all his recent decisions, including the formation of an illegitimate government."
Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior PLO official closely associated with Abbas, accused Iran of encouraging Hamas to use violence to take full control of the Gaza Strip. Iran, he added, was supporting anti-democratic forces in Lebanon, Iraq and the Palestinian territories for its own regional interests.
Khaled Abu Hilal, a former Fatah operative with close links to Hamas, has decided to fill the vacuum created by the collapse of the Fatah leadership in the Gaza Strip.
Abu Hilal, a former spokesman for the Hamas-led Ministry of Interior, announced that he would form a new party called Fatah al-Yasser (after Yasser Arafat.) Abu Hilal called on the "good guys" in Fatah to join his new party and on Fatah members in the West Bank to follow suit. (Courtesy: Jerusalem Post, June 20, 2007)