CAIRO – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday rejected demands by Hamas for control of the Gaza border and told the Islamist group to “end its coup in Gaza”.
Hamas, which seized control of Gaza in June after routing Abbas’s more secular Fatah forces, blasted open the Egyptian border last week in defiance of an Israeli blockade, letting Gazans pour into Egypt to stock up on goods in short supply.
Abbas, who met Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and other officials in crisis talks in Egypt on restoring order at the frontier, has already won U.S., European and Arab backing to take control of the Rafah crossing, to the exclusion of Hamas.
“Hamas has to end its coup in Gaza, accept all international obligations, and accept holding early elections. After that, our hearts are open for any dialogue,” Abbas told a news conference in which he referred to Hamas as an “illegitimate” party.
“We do not accept any new (border) agreements,” he said, adding the Palestinian Authority was willing to take control of crossings only according to an international deal in place before Hamas took control of the coastal strip.
Shunned by the West for refusing to renounce violence against Israel after winning Palestinian elections two years ago, Hamas signaled it could prevent Egypt from re-sealing the border unless its own authority there was recognized.
“Talking about a partial role contradicts reality,” senior Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar said as he crossed through the Rafah border terminal into Egypt to take part in talks with Egypt on the future of the border.
“The reality is that there is a legitimate government. We will not give up our legitimacy to anybody,” he said.
It is unclear how Abbas, the Fatah leader, would be able to exert control over Rafah given opposition from Hamas, whose forces have command on the ground.
EGYPT COULD TAKE BORDER STEPS
Hamas sought on Wednesday to make the case that it could manage the Rafah crossing itself. It allowed television cameras and reporters into the terminal to watch Zahar and other Hamas leaders have their passports stamped by Hamas border guards.
Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said the group “does not accept anything less than a key role in the Rafah crossing”. Hamas officials were also due to meet Egyptian officials on Wednesday.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said: “Abbas’s comments, that Hamas was not a legitimate party, reflect his intentions to foil the Cairo meetings.”
Hamas politburo member Izzat al-Rishq played down chances that Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, heading the group’s delegation to Egypt, would meet Mubarak, who described the Islamist group’s Gaza takeover as a “coup against legitimacy”.
“The schedule is not finalized, but Abu al-Waleed (Meshaal) doesn’t normally meet with President Mubarak,” Rishq said in the Syrian capital.
Israel signaled on Tuesday it would not stand in the way of Abbas taking control of Gaza’s border with Egypt, but officials expressed doubt that Abbas’s forces could stand up to Hamas’s.
Egyptian state media reported that Egypt was planning to take steps shortly to start to close the border.
One state-run newspaper said Cairo planned to close the border on Thursday, and the flagship al-Ahram newspaper said the last opportunity for Gazans to return home would be at the start of next week.
Under heavy international pressure to ease its cordon, Israel has allowed European-funded fuel to reach Gaza’s main power plant, but the main U.N. aid agency said it was running out of meat for nearly one million Palestinians in Gaza.
Israel was allowing 70 trucks of wheat and other grain to enter Gaza through the Karni crossing between Israel and Gaza, a Karni official told Israel Radio.
Gaza border crossings have emerged as the main battleground in a power struggle between Hamas and Abbas, whose authority has been limited to the Israeli-occupied West Bank since June.
Abbas has proposed taking over all crossings, including those with Israel. Hamas sees the effort as part of a campaign to limit its power.