Nov 8, 2008 13:18 | Updated Nov 8, 2008 21:51 Egypt postpones Palestinian summit By KHALED ABU TOAMEH Egypt informed the various Palestinian factions over the weekend of its decision to postpone indefinitely a long-awaited conference for solving the dispute between Hamas and Fatah, Palestinian Authority officials said. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Photo: AP [file] The decision came shortly after Hamas told the Egyptians that it would boycott the conference, which was scheduled to open in Cairo on Sunday. The Egyptians ordered representatives of various Palestinian factions who had already arrived in Cairo for the parley to leave Egypt immediately. Twelve Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Fatah, were expected to take part in the conference, which was also being held under the auspices of the Arab League. Quoting top PA officials, The Jerusalem Post revealed Thursday that the Egyptians were "seriously" considering postponing the conference following threats by Hamas to stay away. RELATED a.. Egypt may cancel Palestinian talks The decision to call off the "national reconciliation" conference is seen by PA officials in Ramallah as a severe blow to Egyptian efforts, with leaders who have been working hard over the past year to end the crisis between Hamas and Fatah. A PA official told the Post Saturday that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was "furious" with Hamas for canceling its participation in the conference at the last minute. The official said that Mubarak had instructed his government to suspend all contacts with Hamas and to keep the Rafah border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt closed until further notice. "President Mubarak feels betrayed by Hamas," the official said, citing unnamed Egyptian government representatives. "From now on we will see a rapid deterioration in relations between Hamas and Egypt." Another PA official in Ramallah predicted that the new crisis between Hamas and Egypt would have a negative impact on efforts to release kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Schalit. Over the past two years, Egyptian Intelligence Chief Gen. Omar Sulieman has been acting as a mediator between Hamas and Israel to secure Schalit's release. Hamas officials said the decision to boycott the conference was made in protest the PA security forces' continued clampdown on its supporters in the West Bank. They added that parts of the Egyptian initiative for solving the crisis with Fatah were "totally unacceptable." The initiative calls, among other things, for the establishment of a Palestinian "unity" government, the reconstruction of the PA security forces so that they would include members of all Palestinian factions and preparing for holding new presidential and parliamentary elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Hamas officials said they were recently surprised to learn that the Egyptians were also trying to include the issue of PA President Mahmoud Abbas's term in office in the conference's agenda. Although Abbas's time in office expires in January 2009, he has made it clear that he intends to stay in power for at least another year - a move strongly opposed by Hamas and other Palestinian factions. Mushir al-Masri, a Hamas spokesman in the Gaza Strip, accused Abbas's forces of launching a massive crackdown on Hamas members in the West Bank in a bid to foil the planned conference. Last week Hamas released scores of Fatah detainees held in its prisons in the Gaza Strip as a goodwill gesture on the eve of the Cairo discussions and urged Abbas to reciprocate. However, Abbas announced over the weekend that there are no Hamas detainees in PA prisons in the West Bank. His announcement enraged Hamas leaders who responded by publishing a list of dozens of Hamas "political" detainees who had been arrested by Abbas's security forces in the past few months. Masri said that Abbas's announcement was one of the reasons why Hamas decided to boycott the Egyptian-sponsored gathering. He said another reason was Abbas's decision to ban Hamas representatives in the West Bank from traveling to Egypt for the conference. Khalil al-Hayeh, a senior Hamas official in the Gaza Strip, linked between Abbas's refusal to release Hamas detainees and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's visit to Ramallah on Friday. "Abbas is clearly under pressure from the Americans not to solve the dispute [with Hamas]," he said. "This explains his false announcement last Friday that there are no Hamas members in his prisons." The two Hamas officials blamed Abbas and the PA security forces for the failure of Egypt's mediation efforts and the cancellation of the conference. They accused Abbas of lying to the Palestinian public by claiming that all those who were detained by his forces were thieves and murderers. In the first sign of increased tensions between Hamas and Egypt, the Islamic movement organized a demonstration over the weekend in protest the continued closure of the Rafah terminal. Hundreds of protesters shouted anti-Egyptian slogans and accused Mubarak of participating in the blockade on the Gaza Strip. Yahya Moussa, a Hamas legislator, said it was "shameful" that Egypt was refusing to reopen the border. "I call on the Egyptian leadership to draw conclusions from all the developments that have been taking place in the world lately," he said. "Shame on you that you are keeping the border crossing closed for your Palestinian brothers." In separate incidents over the past two weeks, the Egyptian authorities banned a Hamas delegation from crossing the border into Egypt and a European team of parliament members from entering the Gaza Strip. PA officials reacted angrily to the postponement of the conference and held Hamas responsible. PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad denied that the PA was holding Hamas members for political reasons and said the decision to call off the intra-Palestinian discussions was unjustified. "The postponement does not serve the Palestinian cause," he said. "We are in dire need to end the divisions between the two parts of the homeland." Yasser Abed Rabbo, a top PLO official and Abbas adviser, said Hamas's decision was taken under pressure from "regional powers" - an apparent reference to Iran and Syria - to foil Egypt's mediation efforts. "President Abbas and the PLO leadership deeply regret Hamas's decision, which is harmful to the Palestinian cause," he said.
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