Abbas: "We will not force anyone
to resume dialogue"

Abbas, speaking at a news conference in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah, said: "We...underline our determination to pursue the dialogue with the movements which criticised us on this issue." 

Hamas was quick to reject his call. Senior Hamas official Ismail Abu Shanab ruled out talks with Abbas as he had not "changed his attitude from Aqaba". 

Islamic Jihad leader Mohammad al-Hindi welcomed Abbas's comments, but urged Palestinian officials to reject the premier's Aqaba speech.

Two days after the Aqaba summit Hamas broke off dialogue with Abbas, saying he did not represent the Palestinian people. The Palestinian premier was accused of being too conciliatory towards Israel at last week's Aqaba summit.

Violence condemned

At Monday's news conference, Abbas also denounced a series of clashes that left five Israeli soldiers and five Palestinian fighters dead on Sunday.

"We reject these acts and if they continue they will complicate the situation and make the peace process difficult," he said.

The Palestinian prime minister appealed for Israel to release Palestinian prisoners and ease the suffering of civilians due to crippling curfews.

"We demand President Bush complete what he started in Sharm El-Sheikh and Aqaba, alleviates the suffering of our people, starting with the prisoners.  Stop closures, end house demolitions, remove the shameful wall and dismantle settlements," said Abbas.

Since the Aqaba meeting, the war
of words has intensified

Sharon back-pedales

Earlier, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's latest comments in which he reiterated his hardline stance towards Palestinian refugees, triggered a new war of words. 

Sharon’s statements indicate he has back-pedaled from the “road map”, said senior Palestinian aide Nabil Abu Rudeina.

Speaking at the Likud convention, Sharon said Israel would make no further moves in the latest effort to end the violence unless Abbas curbed resistance activities.

He reiterated his hardline stance towards Palestinian refugees, vowing never to allow any to return.

Powell warns Arafat

 

Joining the war of words, US Secretary of State Colin Powell told Arafat that he would be "held to account" if he did anything to undercut the Washington-backed peace "road map".

 

"I recognise he is the elected representative of the Palestinian Authority, and he has standing among Palestinians. But now he has got to use whatever standing he has to make sure that terrorism doesn't derail us again, by speaking out against it," Powell said in a CNN television interview.

 

The US national security adviser Condoleeza Rice said the death of five Israeli soldiers on Sunday should not derail the Middle-East peace process.

 

"The parties need to stay on track," Rice said on NBC television's "Meet the Press" programme.

 

In other developments:

  • Israel's army met settler leaders on Monday to give them a list of settlements to be up-rooted. If settlers failed to voluntarily evacuate, the army would up root settlements overnight, Israel's public radio said. The majority of settlements listed are not inhabited.

  • Israel's Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom began talks in Russia on the Middle East peace process. Shalom held two-hour talks with his Russian counterpart Igov Ivanov.

  • Abbas refused to hold talks with his Italian counterpart Silvio Berlusconi over the latter's refusal to meet Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, said sources in the Premier's office.

At the Aqaba summit Abbas and Sharon vowed to support the US-backed "road map" aimed at ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The plan calls for dismantling of Jewish settlements. Israel has said it will only dismantle settlements it deems illegal. Under international law all settlements are illegal.