Abbas vows to keep up financial pressure on Hamas
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Abbas vows to keep up financial pressure on Hamas

Palestinian leader blasts Gaza's rulers for lighting up tunnels despite power shortage, accuses US of trying to block reconciliation

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank city of Ramallah, July 25, 2017. (AFP/Abbas Momani)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank city of Ramallah, July 25, 2017. (AFP/Abbas Momani)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas pledged Saturday to keep cutting support payments for Hamas-ruled Gaza despite what he said was US criticism of such tactics.

“While there is a severe electricity crisis in Gaza, Hamas provides light for its underground tunnels and the homes of its officials around the clock,” Abbas told a group of prominent visitors from East Jerusalem at his Ramallah headquarters.

Abbas’s government in the West Bank began earlier this year to scale back electricity payments and other financial support in an effort to force Hamas to cede ground in Gaza. Such cuts have exacerbated blackouts.

The Islamic terror group seized the territory in 2007 after defeating forces from Abbas’s Fatah faction. Reconciliation attempts failed.

Abbas told the gathering that the PA would “continue the cuts in Gaza, gradually, unless Hamas accepts the requirements of the reconciliation.”

He added that US officials had told him he shouldn’t cut electricity, and said that those opposed to pressuring Hamas “don’t want to see an independent state” — presumably because a continued political split precludes independence.

His defiant tone toward Washington comes amid mounting criticism among Palestinian officials, who say US President Donald Trump and his envoys to the region having taking Israeli positions and stymying the possibility for meaningful peace talks.

On Tuesday, Abbas held a rare meeting in Ramallah with a delegation from Hamas over possible reconciliation between the rival factions.

The meeting, held at the PA’s headquarters in Ramallah, came amid reports that lightning talks aimed at restoring PA control in Gaza and getting the PA to lift sanctions against Hamas are underway. The talks were initiated by Abbas, according to the London-based pan-Arab daily Rai al-Youm.

File: Still from an August 2015 Hamas video purporting to show a Gaza tunnel dug under the Israeli border. (Ynet screenshot)
File: Still from an August 2015 Hamas video purporting to show a Gaza tunnel dug under the Israeli border. (Ynet screenshot)

The Hamas delegation was headed by former Palestinian education minister Nasser al-Din al-Shaer, and included Hamas lawmakers — Mahmoud Al-Ramahi, Mohammad Totah, Ayman Daraghmeh and Samir Abu Eisha.

According to a report of the meeting in the official PA news outlet Wafa, the sides “reviewed the general situation, ways of strengthening unity, and ending division.”

In addition to power cuts in Gaza throughout most of the day, recent months have seen a severe shortage of medicine and medical equipment in the enclave, a rights watchdog said in June, describing a worsening humanitarian situation.

A deal to truck in fuel from Egypt to keep a power plant running was brokered by Mohammed Dahlan, a former Fatah strongman, seen as a top rival to Abbas.

The PA president, who opposes what he sees as Hamas’s shadow government in Gaza, has said privately that he is tired of being Hamas’s “ATM machine” and that if Hamas wants PA money it must cede power to the PA in the Strip, according to Rai al-Youm.

The new framework reportedly being discussed between the two sides would enable the PA to restore electricity supplies and allow Gazan banks to trade in foreign currency again.

But in return, Hamas must publicly renege on its agreement with Dahlan, and dismantle its governing structures in Gaza, which, according to the PA, contravene previous agreements between the group and the PA, the report said.

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