Palestinian President Abbas chides leaders over Gaza visits

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 06, 2013 11:40 AM
Palestinian President Abbas chides leaders over Gaza visits

By Tom Perry

CAIRO (Reuters) - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas hit out at leaders who make official visits to the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, telling an Islamic summit on Wednesday such trips deepened the schism among Palestinians.

The remarks by the West Bank-based leader of the Palestinian Authority follow recent visits to Gaza by the Emir of Qatar and the prime minister of Malaysia. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, a major sponsor of Hamas, said this week he too would like to visit the territory.

Addressing the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation summit in Cairo, Abbas drew a distinction between welcome humanitarian aid for Gaza and "political visits that have an official character, as if there is an independent entity in the Gaza Strip".

"We do not accept any visit or policy that represents a violation of the unity of Palestinian representation," Abbas told the assembled dignitaries, including leaders who have either been to Gaza or have said they would like to go.

Hamas has ruled Gaza since 2007, when it seized control from the Western-backed Palestinian Authority led by Abbas' Fatah faction at the height of a power struggle set off by the Islamist group's victory in 2006 legislative elections.

Hamas is hostile to Israel and shunned by the West. It opposes the Palestinian Authority's strategy of seeking to negotiate a permanent solution to the Middle East conflict.

Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani was given red-carpet treatment when he went to Gaza in October, as the first head of state to visit since 1999. Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas prime minister in Gaza, described it as a historic day.

The Ramallah-based administration denounced Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak's January 22 trip there. The president of Tunisia, Moncef Marzouki, had also been due to visit Gaza last month, but canceled at the request of Abbas.

Ahmadinejad, the first Iranian leader to visit Egypt since Tehran's 1979 Islamic revolution, said he would visit Gaza if allowed. Gaza borders Egypt to the east.

Abbas said such visits would lead to a "strengthening of the division". The PA had not forgone its responsibilities towards Gaza for a second, he said, adding that it spent more than $130 million a month on salaries and services there.

He said new Palestinian elections would be the quickest way to end the division - a split which Palestinians feel has badly set back their quest for statehood.

Abbas added that Palestinian factions would meet in Cairo at the weekend to agree procedures for holding such elections. The Islamic summit was due to hold what it described as a special session on Palestine on Wednesday.

(Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; Editing by Paul Taylor and Andrew Roche)

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