Sunday, January 13, 2008


US admits Mideast peace deal hangs on fate of Gaza

Published: Saturday January 12, 2008

A senior US official acknowledged on Saturday that an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal would depend on the fate of Gaza, which is controlled by the Islamist movement Hamas.

Hamas which evicted moderate Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's Fatah faction from Gaza in June after a week of bloodshed, meanwhile, dismissed US President George W. Bush's vision of a Palestinian state.

The US official, who declined to be named, said the fate of Bush's targeted peace deal by the end of this year depended on Abbas taking back control of the Gaza Strip.

"I don't think in the long term that an agreement is going to work if Hamas continues to control Gaza," he said.

"That's why we repeatedly said that the Palestinian Authority should resume its responsibility for the government in Gaza as well," he said. "Exactly how that is going to work I don't know, I can't predict the future."

The official also drew a distinction between any Israeli-Palestinian agreement and its actual implementation. "It seems that it will take some time," he cautioned.

"The parties will have to agree on how they want to structure the agreement, but I think that there have been general thoughts that there will be first a framework and later a comprehensive agreement.

"This will all play out in quite a period of time."

Dismissed Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya, meanwhile, rejected what he termed "Bush's vision of a rump state", in a speech to Palestinian pilgrims at a ceremony to mark their return from the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.

Bush called in Israel on Thursday for an end to the four-decade-old Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and for the two sides to make the tough choices needed for a final peace deal.

The US president also called for new mechanisms "including compensation" to resolve the issue of Palestinian refugees, one of the thorniest of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Haniya hit out at the president's suggestion that a peace agreement might exclude the refugees returning to the homes they fled in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

"We reject his denial of the right of return of refugees and his position on Jerusalem," Haniya said.

"We do not accept that 11,000 (Palestinian) prisoners stay in Israeli jails and that (Jewish) settlements remain in Palestinian territory," the Hamas official added.

Haniya also called for an end to "security cooperation" between Israel and Abbas.

Another Hamas leader, Ahmad Bahar, accused Bush, Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of "conspiring against the Palestinian cause and the armed struggle."

On Friday, Hamas spokesman Ismail Radwan said the movement would not be bound by any agreement that Abbas and Olmert reached, adding that the proposed deal fell far short of Palestinian aspirations.

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