Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Abbas under pressure to stay away from peace conference

Comment: This is from an Arab media source Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is under pressure from his Fatah faction not to attend a US-led Middle East conference Arab states were not interested in the conference as a "gimmick." In the Occupied West Bank, a Palestinian fighter and an Israeli soldier were killed in a shootout Tuesday.
Aides said Abbas believes preparations for the gathering, expected around mid-November, must continue. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrives on Wednesday for talks with Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Olmert, who has met regularly with Abbas in a bid to find common ground ahead of the conference on Palestinian statehood, has sought to lower expectations, saying Israel wanted a joint declaration out of the deliberations rather than a binding deal.
Abbas is seeking a more explicit "framework agreement" with a timeline for implementation on the core "final-status" issues of borders, Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees.

His aides said Fatah, which holds sway only in the West Bank after Hamas Islamists took control of the Gaza Strip in June, is pressing Abbas to skip the meeting unless achievements and wide international participation are assured."
"We can live without a conference, but we cannot live with a conference that fails," one aide said.

Azzam al-Ahmad, a senior Fatah official, said Palestinians should not participate in a meeting that does not include "all concerned Arab parties," naming Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

"There must be political substance to the meeting and a clear agenda, with clear outcomes concerning final-status," Ahmad said.
The internal pressure on Abbas represents another challenge for Rice, who will try to spur the Palestinian leader and Olmert to narrow their differences in time for a gathering whose goals are still unclear.

Palestinian officials have raised the possibility the conference could be postponed if there was no meeting of minds.

US officials said Rice wants to see a commitment they can deliver enough at the conference to draw in key regional player Saudi Arabia, which has put Washington on notice it is not interested in coming unless substantive issues are addressed.
Arab diplomats have accused the US administration of inadequately preparing for the conference and suggested its aim will be only to create the illusion of progress toward peace.

"The conference should not be just one of those meetings for a handshake and a final communique that reflects general positions. We need specifics," Arab League chief Amr Moussa told Reuters at his Cairo headquarters. "This time if it is only gimmicks, we are not interested."

Israeli President Shimon Peres said relations between Abbas and Olmert were "in very good shape," but "that does not mean they have concluded the main problems. I believe while not all problems are solved and not all roads clear, by and large the chances to conclude a process of peace are higher than ever."

"There is a window of opportunity, and I say smilingly, the window is made of glass and we have to be careful not to break it," he added.
Pro-Western Gulf Arab states do not want the Middle East peace conference called by Washington to be aimed at helping get it out of "the Iraqi impasse," the oil-rich bloc's chief said on Tuesday.

Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states "welcome any attempt to reach a just and comprehensive solution of the Palestinian issue and settle the Arab-Israeli conflict," Abdel-Rahman al-Attiyah said in remarks released at GCC headquarters in Riyadh.

He said he hoped the proposed conference will address core issues and will "not be aimed at linking movement in the Middle East peace process to developments in Iraq in a bid to attract Arab states to a conference whose real goal is to help [the US] get out of the Iraqi impasse."

Attiyah did not elaborate on his suggestion that Gulf monarchies, which have close ties with the United States, fear Washington might use the conference to ease its difficulties in war-torn Iraq, where the continuing insurgency is fueling mounting domestic criticism.

His remarks came barely a week after GCC heavyweight Saudi Arabia said it might skip the international conference if the meeting is not comprehensive and does not tackle core issues of the conflict with Israel.

An Israeli soldier and an armed Palestinian were killed in a shootout at the Ein Bet Ilmeh camp, near the West Bank city of Nablus.
Palestinian ambulances were barred from entering the camp, witnesses said.
The incident began before dawn when troops in over 20 armored jeeps roared into the camp and were met by gunfire.
The army said troops were involved in exchanges of fire and encountered stone-throwing riots during the raid. One Israeli soldier was killed and another slightly wounded, the army said. Palestinian residents said one armed youth, 17, was killed in the shooting.

The army said it also arrested three suspected militants.
Captain Noa Meir said the army was acting on specific information of militants planning "to execute terrorist attacks."

Meir called Nablus "the capital of terror in the West Bank" and said that 10 weapons labs have been discovered in the city this year.In 2006, 117 out of 187 potential suicide bombers arrested by the army hailed from Nablus, she added.

Witnesses claimed that soldiers used a resident as a "human shield" as they moved house-to-house in search of suspected militants. Meir said the army was looking into the charge.

Israel's Supreme Court has ruled the practice is illegal.
The army says it has respected the ruling. But Palestinians and human-rights groups say that in some cases the army has continued to use civilians as human shields during operations in crowded urban areas - and at least one instance has been caught on camera.

Troops imposed a curfew in the crowded camp of 5,000 and searched from house to house, knocking down walls to get from one building to the next, witnesses said.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine said that the dead youth was a member, identifying him as Mohammad Ridah Khaled.

"We will follow in your path, Mohammad, until we expel the military occupation and achieve our own state," the group said.
Israeli authorities said they also foiled a plot by a Hamas militant to attack Israeli tourists at a hotel in neighboring Jordan, Olmert's office announced Tuesday.
A statement said that Khader Shkeir, from the West Bank village of Ein Arik, had been arrested on July 31. It gave no reason for the delay in announcing the arrest.
The statement said Shkeir admitted to planning the attack during a visit to Jordan in 2005 with an accomplice. It said the suspects chose the Radisson SAS hotel in Amman and a second hotel as their targets.
According to the statement, the pair planned to board a bus carrying tourists to the hotels and carry out a mass shooting attack. It said they bought two AK-47 automatic weapons for the attack, but the plan went awry when Jordanian authorities arrested Shkeir on suspicion of militant activity and deported him to the West Bank.

The statement said that Shkeir continued to work with Hamas after returning to the West Bank. Shkeir has not been charged. There was no immediate reaction from Jordan.
Hamas officials said that they were not aware of the arrest and could not confirm whether Shkeir was a member of the group.

But the officials cast doubt on the Israeli allegations, saying the group limits its military operations to Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Still, ties between Hamas and Jordan have been strained.
In May 2006, the Jordanian government accused Hamas of plotting attacks in Jordan and smuggling arms into the country.

At the time, 20 Hamas suspects were arrested and later confessed on Jordanian television to plotting attacks.

But human-rights groups have questioned the confessions, pointing to incidences of torture among Jordanian security officials. - Agencies

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