Abbas refuses reconciliation until Hamas cedes control of Gaza — PA ex-minister
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Abbas refuses reconciliation until Hamas cedes control of Gaza — PA ex-minister

PA president said to vow not to lift sanctions on Strip unless rivals agree to give him 'control of everything, including money and weapons'

Khaled Abu Toameh is the Palestinian Affairs correspondent for The Times of Israel

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a press conference prior to attending a EU foreign affairs council at the European Council in Brussels, January 22, 2018.  (EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a press conference prior to attending a EU foreign affairs council at the European Council in Brussels, January 22, 2018. (EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has vowed not to lift the sanctions he imposed on the Gaza Strip last year and until Hamas completely cedes control over the coastal enclave, including over its weapons,  a former PA minister revealed on Thursday.

Frieh Abu Medien, a former PA minister of justice from the Gaza Strip, said Abbas made his remarks during a meeting he held with him recently.

“I had a chance to meet with President Abbas for the first time in many years to explore the possibility of ending the division (between the West Bank and Gaza Strip),” Abu Medien wrote in an article published in the London-based Rai al-Youm online newspaper.

“It was a frank and clear dialogue,” said Abu Medien referring to the ongoing dispute between Hamas and Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction. Hamas took over Gaza from Abbas’s Fatah in a bloody uprising in 2007. Several attempts to reconcile between the parties have failed and the current attempt has passed a deadline with no action.

 

Hamas’s new deputy leader Salah al-Arouri (seated, left) and Fatah’s Azzam al-Ahmad (seated, right) sign a reconciliation deal in Cairo on October 12, 2017, as the two rival Palestinian movements work to end their decade-long split following negotiations overseen by Egypt. (AFP/Khaled Desouki)

 

“Abbas had the feeling that a storm was brewing,” Abu Medien said.

“He told me: ‘You are from the Gaza Strip and Hamas needs to understand that if it wants reconciliation, it must completely relinquish its rule over the Gaza Strip and allow the Palestinian government to govern and control.’”

The former PA minister quoted Abbas as saying that Hamas should permit the Palestinian government to “control everything, including money and weapons.”

Abu Medien said that when he asked Abbas to reconsider his decision to suspend the payment of salaries to thousands of PA civil servants in the Gaza Strip, the PA president replied: “I won’t lift the sanctions and I won’t present any new initiatives unless Hamas meets my conditions and the Gaza Strip becomes like a ring on my finger.”

US President Donald Trump, left, and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas pose for a photograph during a joint press conference at the presidential palace in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on May 23, 2017. (AFP/Mandel Ngan)

The former PA minister said that he sees Abbas’s sanctions, which include, among other things, drastic cuts in salaries of civil servants, the suspension of social assistance to hundreds of families and the forced retirement of thousands of employees, as part of the “siege” on the Gaza Strip.

Abu Medien also accused the US of trying to subvert the Palestinian cause.

US President Donald Trump’s December announcement recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and decision to cut US funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) are aimed at liquidating the Palestinian cause, Abu Medien charged.

What is happening to the Gaza Strip comes in the context of this scheme, he added. “Gaza is being starved and humiliated because of the struggle of its people,” Abu Medien said. “On behalf of its people, I say that Gaza will die standing and will not succumb.”

The US and Israel have accused Hamas of funneling hundreds of millions of dollars in aid meant for the people of Gaza toward buying weapons and materials to build attack tunnels and fortifications.

Israel and Egypt maintain a blockade on Gaza to prevent the smuggling of these illicit arms and equipment into Gaza.

Hamas said that Abu Medien’s revelations prove that Abbas is not sincere about ending the dispute between the two parties.

Musa Abu Marzouk, a senior Hamas official, said that Abbas’s remarks show that the issue of “empowering” the PA government in the Gaza Strip was not the main obstacle hindering the implementation of the “reconciliation” agreement.

Abbas wants the weapons of Hamas, and without that he won’t do anything, Abu Marzouk said.

Abbu Medien also said that Abbas was concerned because Trump had been pushing him to reconcile with Hamas.

“President Abbas said that US President Donald Trump told him that the reconciliation (between Hamas and Fatah) should continue and be fulfilled,” the former PA minister said.

Trump also made it clear (to Abbas) that he had instructed his staff and regional powers, including Israel, to facilitate efforts to end the Hamas-Fatah dispute, Abu Medien said.

According to Abu Medien, Trump’s position raised concerns for Abbas fear, especially in light of reports that Hamas had reached understandings with ousted Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan concerning the Gaza Strip.

Exiled former senior Fatah member Mohammed Dahlan attends a Palestinian Legislative Council meeting in Gaza City through video conference from the United Arab Emirates on July 27, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)

Dahlan, an arch-rival of Abbas, was expelled from Fatah several years ago after falling out with the PA president.

Since 2011, Dahlan, a former PA security chief, has been living in exile in the United Arab Emirates.

Last year, Hamas and Dahlan were said to have reached understandings that would have paved the way for the ousted Fatah leader to return to the Gaza Strip and play a role in boosting the economy and improving living conditions there.

However, the deal was put on hold after Abbas’s Fatah and Hamas signed another “reconciliation” accord in Cairo in November 2017.

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