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Abbas Warns of Descent into Civil War
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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas yesterday said the raging power-struggle between Palestinian factions must not deteriorate into civil war.


"Civil war is the red line that nobody dares cross, no matter which side they are on... Civil war is forbidden," Abbas said on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum where he held his first high-level meeting with an Israeli official since the militant Hamas organization took control of the Palestinian government in March.


Abbas said he told Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni that the two sides must restore regular contact and work toward resuming peace talks. Livni said the roadmap peace plan drawn up by the international community remained in force but did not elaborate.


After the 45-minute meeting, Livni said the Hamas government must not gain international recognition.


"It is a terrorist government, on the other hand we want to help the Palestinian people and not to punish them," she said.


She also said Israel had decided to release 50 million shekels (US$11 million) in tax money it had collected on behalf of the Palestinians but was withholding.


Israeli officials and Abbas said the two leaders had discussed preparations for a summit between the Palestinian leader and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert once he returns from a trip to Washington that began yesterday.


Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert "sees no reason not to hold a future meeting with (Palestinian President) Mahmoud Abbas," Livni said.


Olmert had been widely expected to meet with Abbas after the Israeli leader's talks this week in Washington with US President George W. Bush, but Livni's comments were the firmest indication yet that such a meeting would take place.


Israel radio had said Livni and Abbas wanted to form a "bypass" channel to maintain communications without including Hamas in their talks. Abbas wants to resume peace negotiations with the Israelis.


Hamas refuses to recognize Israel and rejects calls for the militant Islamic group to disarm, a stand which has led the US and the EU cut off of vital aid to Palestinians. The lack of funds has thrown the Palestinian territories into turmoil.


Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres, who joined the talks, said he had spoken with Egyptian officials at the conference about "how to help the Palestinians get out of the difficult situation that they are in."


At a news conference on Saturday at the World Economic Forum in the booming Sinai Peninsula resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Abbas said he would open a dialogue with Hamas leaders within the week in a bid to end violence that has rocked the Gaza Strip.


"There is a crisis. We have to look for a solution," he said. "A dialogue will be opened within the next four or five days."


The moderate Palestinian leader also said that there was no path forward for his people but to seek peace with Israel.


Abbas' Fatah movement and Hamas are caught in an increasingly violent power struggle focused on control of the security apparatus in Gaza and are deeply divided on contacts with Israel.


"I have no other option than to seek the road of peace…. Our hands will remain extended in peace. Peace is the only option," Abbas said. The Palestinian leader said he would tell Israeli officials he remained opposed to unilateral Israeli actions to separate itself from the Palestinians.


(China Daily May 22, 2006)


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