US slams Abbas for trying to torpedo Gaza ceasefire deal

Mideast Envoy Jason Greenblatt tells Palestinian Authority it needs to be 'part of the solution', and the time has come to make 'hard choices'

US President's peace process envoy Jason Greenblatt, left, meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the President's office in the West Bank city of Ramallah, March 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

WASHINGTON — The US on Wednesday slammed the Palestinian Authority for seeking to undermine ceasefire talks between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, saying the PA needs to make “hard choices.”

The statement Wednesday from US Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt comes after Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas reportedly said an Egyptian-brokered Gaza ceasefire would only happen “over his dead body.”

“The Trump Administration strongly supports the efforts of President Al Sisi and the Egyptian government ‎to help facilitate an agreement to restore calm in Gaza and bring about the conditions for the Palestinian Authority to fully assume its responsibilities in Gaza,” Greenblatt said.

“The Palestinian Authority cannot criticize from the sidelines. The Palestinian Authority should be part of the solution for the Palestinians of Gaza and Palestinians as a whole,” he said. “If not, others will fill that void.”

“Leadership is about making hard choices,” Greenblatt said without directly naming Abbas.

“The people of Gaza, and Israelis in the area around Gaza, have suffered for far too long,” Greenblatt said. “It is time for the Palestinian Authority to lead the Palestinian people – all Palestinians – to a better future.”

Greenblatt’s call is unlikely to sway Abbas. The Palestinian Authority has repeatedly accused Greenblatt and the rest of the Trump Mideast team of being biased and completely adopting Israeli positions.

A picture taken on June 13, 2017, shows Palestinian children at home reading books by candle light due to electricity shortages in Gaza City. (AFP/ THOMAS COEX)

Indirect negotiations between Hamas and Israel have reportedly included discussion on easing the decade-old blockade on Gaza, but by no means a complete lifting of it. Israel says the blockade is in place in order to prevent weapons and other military equipment from entering the Strip.

Recent months have seen repeated rounds of intense violence between Israel and Hamas, along with weekly border protests at the Gaza border that have regularly included rioting, attacks on Israeli troops and attempts to infiltrate and sabotage the border fence. In sporadic surges Hamas has fired dozens of rockets at Israel and Israel has hit Hamas targets in the Strip.

Around 170 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since the weekly protests began, a Hamas ministry says. Hamas has acknowledged that dozens of those killed were its members.

One Israeli soldier was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper.

Greenblatt’s swipe at Abbas comes after the PA leader reportedly lambasted the potential ceasefire agreement, saying such a deal would only be reached “over my dead body.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas chairs a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee at the Palestinian Authority headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah July 28, 2018. (ABBAS MOMANI/AFP)

“If the agreement is signed without the PA’s permission, it is illegal and constitutes treason,” Abbas said in private conversations, according to Hissein al-Sheikh, a senior member of Abbas’s Fatah party.

“Over my dead body will there be a ceasefire and calm between both sides,” Abbas said, according to al-Sheikh.

Sanctions by Abbas aimed at pressuring Hamas to relinquish control of the Strip, including halting payments to workers in Gaza and ending funding for electricity, has helped exacerbate the humanitarian situation in Gaza

Regarding intra-Palestinian reconciliation talks, which have stalled recently, the Fatah member said disagreements between the factions were mounting and that such a deal “never looked more distant.”

Abbas was also said to be furious at Egypt, which has been brokering Israel-Hamas truce talks, for being willing to sit down with members of the terror group that rules the Gaza Strip without his presence.

“The Egyptians aren’t reading the map correctly and are harming the Palestinian national interests,” al-Sheikh said. “Talks with Hamas, which took control of Gaza by force and without the consent of the Palestinian Authority, are unacceptable and are an act of defiance against Palestinian leadership.”

Abbas’s Fatah party and Hamas have been deeply divided for more than a decade. Hamas, an Islamist terror group which openly seeks to destroy Israel, seized control of Gaza from the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority in 2007 and several attempts at reconciliation since then have failed.

Earlier Wednesday, Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar said there was no concrete ceasefire agreement yet with Israel, but warned that if hostilities resume the terror group could launch hundreds of rockets deep into the Jewish state.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (L) and Hamas’s leader in the Gaza Strip Yahya Sinwar wave during a rally marking the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Islamist terror movement, in Gaza City, on December 14, 2017. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

“Until now, there is no final text for a ceasefire. What is being circulated is proposals and ideas,” Sinwar told Palestinian writers and analysts in Gaza, according to the Hamas-linked Shehab news agency. “We decided to end the siege on our people, who have the right to live a dignified life.”

Sinwar warned that if talks broke down Hamas would fire hundreds of rockets in Israel. “What the resistance launched in 51 days in the last war, it can launch in five minutes during any [future] Israel aggression,” he said, referring to the 2014 conflict.

The Hebrew Walla news site quoted him as saying that “Hamas could set off rocket warning sirens in the Tel Aviv region for six months straight.”

 

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