Abbas blames Hamas for Israeli attacks


ARAB REACTION:AS DEMONSTRATIONS opposing Israel's unprecedented onslaught on Gaza erupted across the Middle East yesterday, Palestinian president and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas blamed Hamas for the Israeli assault.

Speaking in Cairo following a meeting with Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, Mr Abbas argued that if Hamas had renewed the ceasefire that expired on December 19th, Israel would not have had a pretext to mount the unprecedented attack. His statement reflected the views of Israel and the US, the principal backers of his West Bank regime, and is likely to deepen the rift between Fatah and Hamas.

Mr Abbas also risks a bitter backlash from Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza who argue that Israel is primarily respon- sible for the termination of the ceasefire because it refused to lift the siege and blockade of the strip and its 1.5 million inhabitants.

Yesterday Hamas called on Arab citizens to exert pressure on their governments to take action.

Arab anger flared across the Middle East over the decision of Arab foreign ministers, who were due to meet in emergency session in Cairo, to postpone their consultations. Azzam Tamimi, a Palestinian intellectual, accused Arab governments of colluding with Israel by giving it time to try to crush Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since June 2007.

Iraq's senior Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, captured the view of the demonstrators when he said: "Expressing condemnation and denunciation for what is going on against our brothers in Gaza and expressing solidarity with them by words only doesn't mean anything in the face of the big tragedy they are facing.

"Now more than at any other time, both Arab and Islamic nations are required to take a practical stance to stop this aggression and to break the unfair siege on these brave people."

One Palestinian was killed and six were seriously wounded in rallies near the West Bank city of Ramallah, the administrative seat of the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority led by Mr Abbas. Protests also took place in Hebron, Nablus and other West Bank cities. A general strike was declared across the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

In Egypt, more than 50,000 took part in anti-Israel demonstrations in a dozen cities around the country. Thousands of Lebanese staged a protest outside the UN headquarters in central Beirut. Police fired tear gas to prevent them from storming the Egyptian embassy.

The Shia Hizbullah movement, which fought a month-long war with Israel in 2006, condemned the Israeli offensive as "a war crime and a genocide that requires immediate action from the international community and its institutions".

However, Hizbullah is not expected to retaliate against Israel by firing rockets across its northern border, risking Israeli military action against Lebanon.

In Mosul, northern Iraq, a suicide bomber on a bicycle ex- ploded a device in an area where more than 1,300 people were protesting at the Israeli operation, killing one and wounding 16.

In Damascus, 5,000 people converged on a central square where they burned Israeli and US flags.

In Amman, Jordan, 5,000 members of the lawyers' syndicate marched on parliament where they called for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador and closure of the embassy. In Dubai, hundreds of protesters gathered at the Palestinian consulate.

In Yemen, thousands of people rallied in the capital Sanaa chanting anti-Israel slogans and castigating Arab regimes for failing to act.

Since he has failed to secure progress towards a Palestinian state in negotiations with Israel, Mr Abbas could lose whatever credibility he still enjoys by taking an anti-Hamas line now.

In a poll conducted before the crisis, 68 per cent of Palestinians said they wanted him to step down when his term ends on January 9th and Hamas has said it will not recognise him as president after that date.

Analysts believe he may hope that Israel's offensive will weaken Hamas and force it to agree to Fatah's terms for reconciliation.

However, this seems unlikely. Hamas, boosted by the attack, has called for a third intifada, adopted a hard line towards Israel and accused Fatah and Egypt of betrayal.