Gaza, June 6 (Reuters): The militant Islamic group Hamas today said it was breaking off talks with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas on ending its attacks on Israelis in a strong challenge to peace pledges he made at a US-led summit.
The announcement set Palestinian hardliners and Abbas’ new reformist government on a collision course likely to stoke fears of civil war. “We have stopped the dialogue with the Palestinian Authority,” Hamas founder and spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin said. “This is our choice and we have no alternative. (Armed) resistance will continue.”
Reinforcing Yassin’s words, thousands of Hamas supporters staged rallies across the Gaza Strip on Friday vowing to continue attacks, including suicide bombings, against Israelis.
He said Abbas made unacceptable commitments at the landmark summit in Aqaba, Jordan on Wednesday with President George W. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in which they affirmed initial steps in a “road map” for peace.
Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, called for demilitarisation of a 32-month-old Palestinian uprising for independence, effectively advocating an end to an armed struggle for a state.
Bush, cementing his new role as the chief West Asian peace mediator after the US-led war in Iraq, won a promise from Sharon to dismantle some settler outposts in the West Bank and endorsement of the creation of a “viable” Palestinian state.
Hamas has spearheaded attacks on Israelis, including dozens of suicide bombings, during the revolt and said Israel must end all occupation before peacemaking can begin.
The road map calls for a halt to Israeli-Palestinian violence and reciprocal confidence-building steps, including a freeze of Jewish settlement expansion on occupied land, leading to establishment of a Palestinian state in 2005.
Hoping to avoid confrontation with Hamas, Abbas held truce talks with the group before the Aqaba summit and had expressed confidence he would persuade it to declare a ceasefire in subsequent talks.
Yassin said Hamas was ending dialogue since Abbas ignored at the summit key issues like the right of return of Palestinian refugees to what is now Israel and the future of Jerusalem.
Commenting on the Hamas move, Palestinian Cabinet minister Ziad Abu Amr signalled Abbas would do his utmost to steer clear of armed conflict with the group.
The government, Abu Amr said, made a commitment “not to resort to force” in internal affairs.
There was no immediate comment by officials in Israel today, where all government offices were closed for a Jewish holiday.
The peace plan, which the Palestinians accepted and Israel endorsed with a string of reservations, calls on the Palestinian Authority to mount “effective operations aimed at confronting all those engaged in terror”.
Such action, the road map says, includes the “dismantlement of terrorist capabilities and infrastructure” and “confiscation of illegal weapons”.
Since the summit, Israeli forces have raided a militant hideout in the West Bank city of Tulkarm and destroyed in the southern Gaza Strip two tunnels through which the army said arms were smuggled from Egypt.
“The Israeli enemy continues its raids and they assassinated two people in Tulkarm,” Yassin said, referring to the yesterday’s killing of two Hamas men wanted by Israel.