RAMALLAH, West Bank – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused Gaza’s Hamas rulers of allowing al-Qaida to infiltrate the coastal strip, and Hamas militants on Tuesday hotly denied the allegation.
In an interview Monday with Italy’s RAI TV, Abbas charged that “thanks to the support of Hamas, al-Qaida is entering Gaza.” Abbas, who met with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi on Tuesday, offered no evidence to back up his allegations.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri accused Abbas of trying to whip up sentiment against Hamas, which vanquished the president’s forces in Gaza last month and unseated his Fatah political party in 2006 parliamentary elections.
“Hamas has no link to al-Qaida,” Abu Zuhri said. Abbas of Fatah “is trying to mislead international opinion to win support for his demand to deploy international forces in Gaza.”
Abbas met Tuesday with Prodi, and said he planned to bring up a standing request to deploy an international force in the Palestinian territories, widely seen as a nonstarter because of the many complications of sending forces to such a volatile area.
Al-Qaida’s presence in the Palestinian territories has been a subject of intense speculation since the 2001 terror attacks on New York and Washington.
Al-Qaida’s second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahri, recently issued a call for supporting Hamas, and the kidnappers of British journalist Alan Johnston, released last week after nearly four months in captivity, appeared to be have been inspired by al-Qaida.
But Hamas leaders, fearful of deepening the group’s international isolation, have suggested they would steer clear of al-Qaida, in line with the movement’s long-standing position to stay focused on the conflict with Israel.
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in an interview published Tuesday that he does not believe it is possible for Hamas and Fatah to reconcile, after the radical Islamic group violently seized control in the Gaza Strip last month.
Olmert told Spain’s leading newspaper, El Pais, he does not foresee any reconciliation between Hamas and Abbas of Fatah, who he says once told him that he would never make peace with the militant group and would always combat it.
“I personally do not believe in a reconciliation between Hamas and Abu Mazen,” Olmert was quoted as saying, referring to Abbas’ nickname. “Abu Mazen himself has been a witness of how they were preparing to kill Palestinians with such brutality that I’ve never seen in my life.”
Also Tuesday, Olmert’s office said envoys for the 22-nation Arab League have postponed a historic visit to Israel.
The foreign ministers of Egypt and Jordan were slated to meet with Olmert and other officials on Thursday, but their visit has been put off until July 25, his office said. It did not give a reason for the delay.
The visit would be the first to Israel of envoys of the Arab League, which has softened its hardline stance toward Israel in recent months in efforts to counter a growing Islamic fundamentalist influence in the Middle East.
Olmert was expected to discuss with the league envoys a revived Arab peace initiative that calls for full Arab recognition of Israel in exchange for the formation of a Palestinian state and an Israeli withdrawal from all lands it captured in 1967.
Israel rejected the plan outright when it was first presented in 2002, but Olmert recently has expressed willingness to discuss it.
Also in Gaza, about two dozen Hamas gunmen took the director general of the Palestinian parliament from his home and questioned him for five hours Tuesday.
The official, Izzedine Abu Safiya, said he was questioned because he had followed Abbas’ directive for observing a new weekend — Friday and Saturday, rather than the traditional Thursday and Friday.
Abbas and Hamas are locked in a battle of control over thousands of government employees in Gaza. Abbas has said only those who refuse to cooperate with Hamas will receive their salaries, and officials estimated that about 31,000, including many hired by Hamas, are not getting paid.