Abbas rejects Sana'a declaration

(dpa) - Palestinian President Mahmoud Monday rejected a declaration signed between his own Fatah party and the rival Hamas movement in Sana'a, Yemen, in which the sides agreed to renew talks after months of a total

Nimr Hammad, a senior political advisor to Abbas, said that Azzam Ahmad, who signed the agreement on behalf of Abbas and Fatah in Yemen, had not been authorized to sign it.

Ahmad should have first presented the four-line agreement to Abbas for approval before signing it, he told Voice of Palestine Radio.

However, Ahmad told al-Jazeera that he was in touch with Abbas over the telephone and that the Palestinian president knew exactly what was going on. He defended the agreement, saying what he signed was in line with the instructions he had received from Abbas.

Ahmed headed the Fatah delegation sent to Yemen by Abbas to debate an initiative proposed by Yemeni President Ali Adullah Saleh aimed at resolving a months-long internal Palestinian political standoff.

The power struggle first emerged after Hamas beat Abbas' Fatah in January 2006 parliamentary elections, and culminated in the radical Islamic movement violently seizing sole control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007.

The seven-point Yemeni initiative calls for restoring the status quo in Gaza to before the Hamas take-over, while holding early legislative and presidential elections.

After days of Yemen-mediated indirect talks that began Thursday and initially broke off with no results Saturday, the Fatah delegation and deputy Hamas chief Moussa Abu Marzouk signed a declaration Sunday in which they agreed to resume talks on the basis of the Yemeni initiative.

"The Yemeni plan will be used as a framework to resume dialogue between the two movements to return the Palestinian situation to their conditions before the Gaza events," said the declaration, read out by Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu-Bakr al-Qerbi at a joint signing ceremony in Sana'a.

Abbas, however, wants immediate implementation of the clause in the Yemeni plan calling on Hamas to reverse its Gaza takeover, rather than an open-ended series of talks on the initiative, his spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh told reporters Sunday. He was reading from a written statement soon after the agreement was signed and as Abbas was meeting with visiting US Vice President Dick Cheney.

Both the United States and Israel oppose resumption of talks between Abbas and Hamas, which they have listed as a terrorist organization.

A senior Israeli government source told Israel Radio on condition of anonymity Monday that Israel would stop its negotiations with Abbas if his Fatah movement formed another unity government with Hamas.

A previous Hamas-led unity government, which was dismissed by Abbas after the Gaza takeover, refused to recognize Israel's right to exist, renounce violence and recognize past interim peace deals calling for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel had therefore refused to engage in peace talks.

Abu Rudeineh said Abbas had accepted the Yemeni plan as a ground for implementation and not as ground for starting talks with Hamas.

Hamas insists on first holding talks with Fatah and the Abbas-led Palestinian Authority, before it agrees to restore the situation in Gaza back to the pre-June 14 takeover.

A Hamas spokesman nevertheless said in Gaza Sunday that the two sides were to resume their talks in the Palestinian areas on April 5.

Palestinian analysts blamed the lack of clarity by Abbas to his delegation in Yemen as the cause for the confusion.

Hani Masri, a newspaper columnist, blamed "the absence of a clear strategy" and of clear instructions from Abbas to Ahmad for the confusion.

The incident could further hurt Fatah's and Abbas' standing, he warned to Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

A recent Palestinian public opinion poll indicated Hamas had made dramatic gains in popularity at the expense of Fatah and Abbas over the past three months, with Hamas leader Ismail Haniya closing a two- digit gap and even passing Abbas by one percentage point if presidential elections were held today.

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