Abbas says Al Qaeda not active in Gaza, West Bank

TUNIS (AP) — Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday denied there are Al Qaeda cells operating in Gaza or the West Bank, countering claims made by Israel’s president earlier this week.
“I don’t think that there are cells of Al Qaeda in Gaza,” he told Associated Press Television News in an interview on the sidelines of the World Summit on the Information Society.

Israeli President Moshe Katsav, during a visit to Italy this week, said that Al Qaeda had set up operations in Gaza after his country’s pullout in August. Other Israeli officials have made similar claims in the past.

Speaking in what he said was his first interview in English since taking office a year ago, Abbas said he was optimistic that a new plan on policing Gaza’s borders would work, particularly with help from European monitors at the crossings.

The deal was sealed Tuesday after 20 weeks of negotiations. The monitors will act as mediators between the Israelis, who will keep tabs on the Gaza-Egypt border via closed-circuit television, and the Palestinians running the crossing.

“We can do it if the Israelis help us,” he said.

Abbas, who arrived in Tunis this week to participate in the UN technology summit, also dismissed US and Israeli objections to members of Hamas, which they consider a terrorist group, running for office in January’s parliamentary elections.

Suicide bombings and other attacks claimed by Hamas have killed hundreds of Israelis during the recent years of violence. Israel, in turn, has repeatedly struck back at the group, killing much of its senior leadership.

Israel wants Abbas to disarm Hamas and other groups — but Abbas prefers to try to co-opt the factions by including them in the nascent political process.

Speaking to Associated Press Television, Abbas said that in a democracy anyone can participate.

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