Marking 40 years of Israeli occupation, President Mahmoud Abbas said Tuesday internal fighting had brought Palestinians to the brink of civil war.
Yet Abbas, recalling what he described as the Arabs' "great defeat" by Israel in six days of war that began on June 5, 1967, assured his people that statehood was within reach.
"On the internal front, the cause of everybody's concern is what is called the security chaos, or more precisely, standing on the brink of a civil war," Abbas said in a televized speech from the city of Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank.
In the Gaza Strip, forces from Abbas' Fatah faction and Islamist Hamas fought a 3-hour gun battle near the Karni commercial crossing, the most serious flare-up in violence between the two groups in two weeks.
At least one member of Abbas' Presidential Guard was hurt.
A Hamas source said the group's gunmen had been in the area to monitor Israeli forces near the Gaza border when they came under fire from the Presidential Guard.
Hamas, which formed a unity government with Fatah in March, denied any casualties on its side. But a senior Western security source said there were several Hamas members injured and accused the group of hiding its casualties.
In Ramallah's main square, down the road from an Israeli army checkpoint at the city's entrance, Palestinians gathered for a rally to mark the "naksa" or setback of 1967.
The war, which began with Israeli air raids that destroyed the bulk of the Egyptian air force, ended with Israel occupying the West Bank - including Arab East Jerusalem - the Gaza Strip, Golan Heights and Sinai desert.
"Since that black date, our people and nation are paying a dear price for a great defeat that... added complications to the Israeli-Arab conflict, at the heart of which is the Palestinian problem and the rights of our people," Abbas said.
"Despite all the difficulties, we are taking steps towards statehood, a target that is getting closer," he said.
Abbas said he and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert would meet for talks in a few days inside Palestinian territory.
"If the Israelis prefer to limit the agenda to the bare minimum, it is my duty as the elected president of the Palestinian people, to discuss strongly all issues and to press that they be placed on the agenda," he said.
Israeli Vice-Premier Shimon Peres, calling the 1967 conflict a war his country had been forced into by hostile Arab states, said: "We wouldn't like to see the Palestinians occupied... We are ready to negotiate straight away, fully, sincerely and responsibly."
Israeli officials, however, have said there could be no substantive talks at present with the Palestinians on statehood, noting their government is led by Hamas, which has rejected Western demands to recognize the Jewish state.
Hamas also has rebuffed an Abbas-proposed truce between militants and Israel following a surge in rocket attacks from Gaza three weeks ago and Israeli air raids to curb them.
Under the plan, the ceasefire would first go into effect in the Gaza Strip and then be extended to the West Bank.
Hamas says a truce must begin simultaneously in both territories. Israel has also rejected the plan, saying its air strikes had led to a drop in rocket attacks.
(China Daily via agencies June 6, 2007)