Abbas calls off talks with Hamas on unity gov’t

RAMALLAH —  In a deepening of the political tension between Fateh and Hamas, a senior aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas yesterday said Abbas would not travel to Gaza Tuesday for a planned resumption of negotiations to form a Palestinian unity government.

It had been widely understood that negotiations would continue in Gaza this week, after Abbas, also head of Fateh, returned from the US and Palestinian PM Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas had urged more talks. But frictions have been deepening between the two leaders’ factions with accusations flying in both directions that a deal had been reached and then reneged on.

Late last week, Abbas announced that negotiations had returned to “zero.” Yesterday, Abbas aide Nabil Abu Rudeina announced that Abbas would not be going to Gaza.

“The president is not going to Gaza in the near future because he’s preoccupied with several appointments,” Abu Rudeina said. An unnamed official close to Abbas had earlier told Reuters that the reason Abbas was not going was that, “there is a problem with Hamas, they keep reneging on the agreements.”

Negotiations on forming a unity Cabinet that Palestinians hope will help end a crippling Western aid embargo have apparently foundered on whether the new government will recognise Israel, and honour interim peace deals with Israel, a platform Abu Rudeina reiterated yesterday as necessary to form a unity government. Hamas has rejected the international demands.

Abbas aides earlier said the president wanted to hear from Hamas this week if they had ideas on how to resolve the row.

One said Abbas did not believe in sacking Haniyeh and declaring a state of emergency —  which some in Fateh have urged —  because this could lead to violence.

The Hamas-led government spent all morning in a Cabinet meeting in Gaza. Hamas legislator Yahya Musa told The Jordan Times that, “national unity is more important than foreign preconditions.”

“The national unity government is about political will and that political will exists already in Hamas. Now the most important thing is to find the political will, free from foreign conditions, in our brothers in Fateh as well. At the moment, they don’t want a national unity government; they are involved in a coup against the PA.”

Meanwhile, officials in the Palestinian president’s office also angrily denied accusations by a Hamas minister, Atef Odwan, Sunday that the president’s office had access to funds that it was withholding, making it impossible for the government to pay a month’s salary it had promised PA employees for Ramadan.

A presidential aide told Al Ayyam newspaper that the accusation was nothing but a “cheap and hateful” attempt at turning “citizens against President Abbas and raise questions on his credibility.”

“The minister showed that he knows nothing about this file and it is a desperate attempt to defend what the government couldn’t achieve and blaming the failure of the government on the presidency.”

An Israeli military court in the occupied West Bank, meanwhile, reversed a decision to release on bail a group of the movement’s legislators, ordering them held in detention until the end of judicial proceedings against them.

The 21-Hamas legislators and Cabinet ministers were arrested after an Israeli soldier was captured in a cross-border raid from Gaza in June. There had been widespread speculation they could be released as part of a future prisoner exchange.

Earlier this month, a military court ordered the men to be released on bail and the military prosecution appealed.

Defence lawyers said the detainees had exhausted all their appeals.

Elsewhere, Israeli PM Ehud Olmert found himself the subject of an Israeli corruption investigation, after being questioned by officials from the country’s top public watchdog in connection with a Jerusalem property deal.

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss has been looking into how the premier —  a former mayor of Jerusalem —  could have benefited from a massive discount price on a luxury apartment he and his wife Aliza bought in the city.

The questioning lasted for 45 minutes and was defined by the prime minister’s office as a “conversation.”

According to press reports, Olmert’s associates worked to help obtain permits from the municipality to renovate what was defined as an historic preservation site, increasing the profitability of the project.

The Olmerts bought the garden apartment in October 2004 for $1.2 million. According to the comptroller’s findings, however, the apartment was actually worth between $1.6 million to $1.8 million.

Attorney General Menachem Mazuz has also ordered his department to examine a complaint that Olmert and his wife sold another Jerusalem apartment for an over-inflated price to an American-Jewish donor. 

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