Haniyeh urges talks with Fateh

HAMAS LEADER ISMAIL Haniyeh, prime minister of the Palestinian government dismissed by President Mahmoud Abbas, called for power-sharing talks on Saturday with Fateh rivals routed from the Gaza Strip.

“There will be no dialogue with Hamas,” responded Hussein Sheikh, a senior Fateh official in the West Bank, according to Reuters.

Hamas seized control of Gaza just over a week ago and faces isolation there, not only from Israel and Western powers, but also from the emergency Cabinet Abbas had set up in the occupied West Bank as well as from some Arab states.

Abbas issued orders on Saturday appointing a commission to investigate how his Fateh forces lost control of the strip to the Islamist group, and dismissing a senior Gaza commander who “surrendered” rather than fight.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said Hamas’  bloody takeover of Gaza amounted to a “coup against legitimacy” that damaged the Palestinian cause.

Israel plans to choke off all but humanitarian and basic supplies to Gaza, home to 1.5 million people, while opening the financial taps to Abbas’ emergency government.

Some aid groups said Abbas’ decision to sever contacts with the Hamas leadership in Gaza was holding up negotiations on reopening Gaza’s main commercial crossing at Karni.

“Food is being used as a political weapon,” a senior Western diplomat involved in the negotiations said.

Hamas is considering hiring private contractors to take over the border crossings because Israel refuses to deal with the Islamist group, an official close to Hamas said.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has agreed to attend Monday’s summit in a bid to boost Abbas’ authority.

But his spokeswoman Miri Eisin told AFP that the Cabinet would only take a “decision in principle” on the tax arrears owed to the Palestinians on Sunday and would not be asked to consider how the payments were phased.

Olmert will offer “gestures” to Abbas on Monday when the leaders meet at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheikh.

Abbas headed to Jordan yesterday for talks with King Abdullah ahead of the Middle East summit, his office said.

Abbas will discuss with the King on Sunday his expectations of Israel at the four-way summit, before travelling on to Egypt for similar talks later in the day with Mubarak, Abbas’ spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina said.

The Palestinian president will insist on “the complete lifting of the siege and serious action to advance the peace process to create a Palestinian state,” he added.

Ahead of the summit, King Abdullah told British Prime Minister Tony Blair over the phone that more international efforts are needed to support the Palestinians and push for resuming talks with Israel, the Jordan News Agency, Petra, reported.

In the West Bank, Israel on Saturday seized a top fighter from the Islamist Hamas whom officials identified as the founder of the group’s armed wing in the territory.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the arrest was proof “we are facing a dual conspiracy” in the West Bank, one led by Israel and the other by Abbas’ security forces.

Abbas has ruled out any dialogue with Hamas, whom he accused of trying to assassinate him. Hamas has denied the allegations.

“The way out of the current situation is launching a Palestinian dialogue without pre-conditions,” Haniyeh told Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh by phone.

Haniyeh said these talks should be held “on the basis of no loser and no winner, and on the basis of no harm to anyone, and on the basis of a national unity government”, according to Haniyeh’s office.

A source close to Haniyeh said his statement was a call to form a new unity government with Fateh and other factions.

Haniyeh’s office said Haniyeh also spoke by telephone to Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman and that “both sides stressed that there is no solution to the status quo except through dialogue”.

Egyptian officials neither confirmed nor denied the call.

Israeli officials say some $400 million in tax revenues will be transferred to Abbas’ emergency government in stages, short of the more than $700 million the Palestinians say they are entitled to. Israel says the rest of the money has been frozen by court order.

In talks with their Israeli counterparts, US officials have requested that Israel ease restrictions on Palestinian access to the Jordan Valley, as well as remove barriers, checkpoints and roadblocks near major Palestinian population centres, including Hebron, Bethlehem and Nablus.

Israeli defence officials have mainly objected to removing the roadblocks and checkpoints near Nablus, arguing they are needed to prevent fighters from criss-crossing the West Bank and infiltrating Israel.

Palestinians say the checkpoints are collective punishment.

Hamas won parliamentary elections 18 months ago but its government was shunned by Israel and Western powers for refusing to renounce violence and recognise Israel.

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