Islamist groups attempt to derail Middle East talks


HAMAS AND 12 radical Palestinian groups are joining forces to co-ordinate attacks against Israel in an effort to torpedo the drive for Middle East peace.

As Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was holding face-to-face peace talks in Washington with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, rejectionist groups, including Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Resistance Committees and smaller left-wing militant organisations, met in Gaza.

Abu Ubaida, a spokesman for the Hamas military wing, said resistance will be stepped up and all options were open. “We declare that the actions of resistance have gone into a new and advanced stage of co-operation in the field at the highest levels in preparation for more effective attacks against the enemy.”

Previous peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians prompted a wave of suicide bombings inside Israel. Israeli security forces have been placed on a high level of alert and have set up additional checkpoints on roads in the West Bank.

“The useless round of negotiations provides a cover for the Zionist aggression against our people,” Mr Abu Abaida said. “We will not allow these negotiations to pass over, and resistance will have its loud voice as an answer to the land-selling negotiation.”

Hamas, which seized control of Gaza from Mr Abbas’s Palestinian Authority in 2007, claimed responsibility for two shootings against Israeli cars in the West Bank this week, and vowed more attacks in response to the resumption of direct peace talks after a 20-month hiatus.

Tuesday’s shooting, in which four settlers were killed, prompted a crackdown by president Abbas’s security forces in the West Bank.

Hundreds of Hamas activists were arrested and two suspects linked to the second attack, in which two settlers were wounded, were arrested.

Gen Adnan Damiri, a Palestinian security forces commander, said his forces have also been placed on alert, fearing more violence from Hamas. “As the negotiations progress, if they see it stands a chance, Hamas will attempt to step up the attacks,” he said.

In contrast to previous attacks in the West Bank, Israeli officials did not blame the Palestinian Authority. Indeed, Israeli security sources went out of their way to praise the actions against Hamas. Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas leader in Gaza, said Mr Abbas does not have a mandate to negotiate with Israel, and the Palestinians would not recognise any agreement.

Mr Netanyahu also faces domestic opposition to peace contacts. Right-wing settlers this week resumed building at a number of locations in the West Bank even though the 10-month moratorium declared by the government only expires this month.

But the Israeli and Palestinian leaders have pledged to press ahead with peace efforts.

The next round of talks will take place in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on September 14th. US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and US Middle East envoy George Mitchell will meet separately in Israel and the West Bank with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators ahead of the Sharm el-Sheikh talks, demonstrating Washington’s hands-on approach.

Mr Netanyahu said he did not rule out holding a referendum if the sides reach a peace deal.

Leading members of the centrist opposition Kadima party have indicated they will be willing to join his government if there is significant progress. “If by the end of the year we see that there are real intentions to reach an agreement with the Palestinians, Kadima will have to decide its path,” Kadima Knesset member Shaul Mofaz told army radio.