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Daily Archives: June 14, 2007

Abbas announcement expected as Hamas pushes to drive Fatah out of Gaza

 Image Sakher Abu El Oun*

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas was to make a "conclusive" announcement yesterday on the stricken Hamas-Fatah government partnership, a top Palestinian official said as the Islamists of Hamas fought on to drive their Fatah rivals out of the Gaza Strip.
The fighting continued yesterday morning in Gaza City with people wounded in exchanges of fire, hospital sources said. They could not give precise figures and ambulances were out of action since they had previously been taken as targets.
Amid warnings that the deadly showdown could lead to an all-out Palestinian civil war, the official, insisting on anonymity, told AFP in the West Bank town of Ramallah: "The Palestinian presidency will make a conclusive announcement on Thursday concerning the partnership with Hamas in the unity government."

Other Palestinian officials questioned did not rule out a withdrawal of Abbas' Fatah party from the coalition.
The headquarters of the pro-Fatah preventive security force in Khan Yunis, southern Gaza, was "totally destroyed" Wednesday after a bomb exploded in a tunnel underneath it, said its chief, Yussef Eissa.
At least three people were killed, including one civilian, medics said.
In western Gaza City, mortars and rockets continued to slam into another headquarters of the secular Fatah party of president Abbas, as the men holed up inside returned fire at Hamas fighters.
More than 70 people, mostly fighters, have been killed in three days of vicious gun battles between the bitter rivals, separated by ideology and locked in an escalating struggle for power.
Fierce gunfire erupted after the explosion in Khan Yunis, witnesses said, with Hamas pushing to take control in the south of the territory a day after ousting its Fatah rivals from the north.
An Egyptian security source said 40 pro-Fatah policemen had fled into neighbouring Egypt, "fearing for their lives because of the violence of the clashes."
And about 300 men of the powerful Fatah-allied Baqr clan surrendered to Hamas in Gaza City's Shati neighbourhood, an elder said.
In the latest call for calm, Abbas and prime minister Ismail Haniya of Hamas spoke on the telephone late on Wednesday and appealed for a halt to the fighting, the president's office said.
Egyptian mediators were trying to arrange a high-level meeting between Fatah and Hamas for their fighters to be taken off the streets, a senior official in Cairo said.
The Cairo-based Arab League, meanwhile, decided to hold an emergency meeting on the crisis tomorrow.
As the internecine bloodshed pushed one of the world's most densely populated areas toward all-out civil war, Abbas warned of a collapse unless the Gaza "madness" stopped, with international players echoing the call.
"Without a stop to fighting, I believe that the situation will collapse in Gaza," said Abbas.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon said the idea of sending an international force to restore peace in the Gaza Strip was worth exploring.
"This is an idea we need to explore," he told reporters, adding that he had preliminary discussions about it with members of the UN Security Council.
He said Abbas raised the idea with him in a phone conversation Tuesday and noted that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert also brought it up.
"I need to consider more in detail with the countries concerned," he said, including such issues as where to locate the force and what its mandate would be.
Earlier Wednesday, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said that all options should be considered to restore calm to Gaza, including deployment of an international force.
Russia said further escalation risked "leading to total chaos… and the spread of conflict in the region," and the EU and UN have also called for an immediate halt to the clashes.
Several dozen Gazans, a wheelchair-bound man and numerous women among them, on Wednesday demonstrated against the violence, with some charging gunmen to force them to stop shooting.
But two demonstrators were killed and more than 10 others wounded after coming under fire.
The spiralling violence has threatened to topple the Palestinian unity cabinet, drive impoverished Gaza toward full anarchy and torpedo international efforts to revive dormant peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.
The conflict on Wednesday spilled over into the occupied West Bank.
Two separate firefights in the northern town of Nablus wounded a dozen people, one a civilian, witnesses said. Eleven Hamas men were kidnapped but later released, security sources said.
At least 24 people were killed in the day's fighting in Gaza, including a boy in the crossfire and the two peace demonstrators, medics said.
Among the dead were two workers for the main UN agency for Palestinian refugees which announced it was temporarily suspending Gaza operations, except for essential and emergency services.
The European Union also suspended its relief projects in Gaza.
Since the latest internecine bloodshed flared last Thursday, at least 74 people have been killed and more than 150 wounded, most of them over the past three days, according to a toll compiled by AFP.


US officials press Pakistan on free elections

 Image Top US diplomats are visting Pakistan this week for talks with key anti-terror ally President Pervez Musharraf on holding free and fair elections due later this year, officials said yesterday.
US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Richard Boucher were expected to steer clear of a political crisis over the suspension of Pakistan's top judge.
But Boucher — who on Wednesday met Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri and members of Pakistan's election commission — said the United States wanted the upcoming general election to be fully democratic.
"The elections should be free, fair and transparent. They should meet international standards," the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan quoted Boucher as saying at a reception in Islamabad late Wednesday.
Boucher said that American observers would help monitor the election.

He also discussed the election process with MPs from the government and the opposition.
Negroponte, the former US Director of National Intelligence, was due to visit Pakistan later in the week for talks with Pakistani leaders, a US official said on condition of anonymity.
Pakistan's once fractious opposition has united over military ruler Musharraf's March 9 ouster of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. Clashes over the issue last month claimed more than 40 lives.
Opposition parties allege Musharraf suspended Chaudhry to remove any legal hurdle to re-election as president-in-uniform for another five years, which the constitution prohibits.
The presidential election by the federal and provincial assemblies is expected in September, while the general election is likely in late 2007 or possibly early 2008.
US officials would not comment on whether Boucher would talk with Musharraf about his role as army chief. General Musharraf seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999.