Abbas meets with Prodi, urges int’l force in Gaza

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called on Tuesday for an international force in the Gaza Strip, which is now controlled by the rival Hamas movement.“We have insisted on the necessity of deploying an international force in the Gaza Strip to guarantee the delivery of humanitarian aid and to allow citizens to enter and leave freely,” Abbas said at a joint news conference in Ramallah after talks with visiting Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi.

Abbas noted the estimated 4,000 Palestinians who have been blocked at the Rafah crossing terminal on the Egyptian border, shut for nearly a month since the Hamas takeover, 11 of whom are reported to have died in the deteriorating humanitarian conditions.

Prodi for his part said a deployment of an international force would require agreement of all the parties involved and said the question “has not yet been examined in detail”, according to the Arabic translation of his remarks.

Abbas’ call threatened to further widen the yawning Palestinian chasm, as Hamas has warned that it would not accept any foreign troops in Gaza and would treat them as an occupying power.

The chief of Hamas’ parliamentary bloc, Salah Bardawil, reaffirmed the position on Tuesday.

“We will not accept the presence of an international force,” he said during a press conference in Gaza.

“The arrival of such a force would be a flagrant intervention in Palestinian affairs and a new occupation that we totally reject,” he said, accusing Abbas of “allying himself with foreigners against Hamas”.

Fighters from Islamist Hamas overran forces loyal to the moderate Abbas in Gaza on June 15, effectively splitting the Palestinians into two entities, with the president controlling the occupied West Bank and Hamas running Gaza.

Following the Gaza takeover by a group whose charter calls for the destruction of the Jewish state, Israel closed off the overcrowded territory, although it has allowed limited humanitarian aid to enter.

The closure has sparked warnings of a humanitarian crisis in the territory, one of the most densely populated places on earth where more than 80 per cent of the 1.5 million residents depend on aid.

Abbas again ruled out any dialogue with the Hamas “putschists”. Prodi offered full support to Abbas and the emergency government, headed by Western-backed premier and respected economist Salam Fayyad, which the president appointed after firing the Hamas-led Cabinet in the wake of the Islamists’ takeover.

“The efforts of President Abbas and Fayyad should be firmly supported,” Prodi said. “They have to be able to show to their people that there exists a ray of hope.” Offering Palestinians humanitarian aid “is not enough”, he said.

“We have to create investments, facilitate the movement of people and goods so that the economic situation improves.” Prodi, who met with Israeli officials on Monday, is on his first visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories since assuming power in the spring of 2006.

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