Abbas rejects Sharon offer on Gaza

Palestinian presidential frontrunner Mahmud Abbas has rejected an offer by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to coordinate Israel's planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip next year.

    Abbas is favourite to become the new Palestinian president

    Speaking to Aljazeera on Thursday, the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) chairman said there was nothing new in a speech Sharon made earlier in the day.


    "It was based on a deal between Sharon and President Bush in March 2004 which tackled three main issues - withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, keeping the settlement outposts and no to a return of Palestinian refugees.

    "I completely reject Sharon's speech and wonder why America, in principle, accepts decisions that previously determine the future of Palestinian issues."

    Abbas added: "We will never concede the right of return and the keeping of illegal settlement outposts which have been rejected since 1967. Sharon is the obstacle in the way of peace."


    In his speech near Tel Aviv, Sharon

    insisted that his

    plan to pull out of the Gaza Strip would be

    implemented within the coming year and that he hoped it would

    be coordinated with the Palestinians.

    "In 2005 we have the opportunity for an historic breakthrough in

    relations between us and the Palestinians," Sharon said.

    "We will act with all our might to ensure that this year of

    opportunity will not become a year of missed opportunities."

    Real chance

    Sharon said that the death of veteran Palestinian leader Yasir

    Arafat on 11 November had removed the biggest obstacle to peace in

    the region, and his successors were likely to tread a different


    "Now there is a real chance that new Palestinian leaders will

    rise, those who will be elected, who will truly abandon the path of

    terror and instead will advance a strategy of reconciliation and

    negotiation without violence, terror and hatred," he said.

    PLO cairman Mahmud Abbas, who has called for an

    end to the armed intifada, is the favourite to win elections due to

    take place on 9 January for a replacement for Arafat.

    "The terms mentioned by Sharon were not new. They prejudge

    the final-status negotiations and are unacceptable"

    Mahmud Abbas,
    PLO cairman

    While Sharon refused to meet with Arafat, confining him to his

    battered headquarters in the West Bank town of Ram Allah, he hosted

    peace talks with Abbas last year when he was briefly Palestinian

    prime minister.

    Sharon unveiled the outlines of his so-called disengagement plan

    last year when he said that Israel would unilaterally withdraw from

    parts of the occupied territories in the absence of a partner for

    peace among the Palestinians.

    But in a clear olive branch to Abbas, Sharon said he was ready

    to involve the Palestinians with the exit from Gaza and four other

    Jewish colonies in the northern West Bank.

    "In light of the new opportunities and potential of a new

    Palestinian leadership, Israel will be prepared to coordinate

    various elements relating to our disengagement plan with the future

    Palestinian government - a government which is ready and able to

    take responsibility for the areas which we leave," the premier said


    Israeli occupation

    Sharon said that his government would implement the pullout,

    which should see all 8000 Gaza settlers uprooted from their homes

    by September 2005, "with conviction and without hesitation".

    He added: "This initiative is the foundation and cornerstone for the great

    opportunities which lie before us and it is perhaps one of the most

    important decisions we have made in the last few years."

    But Palestinian Authority spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaina insisted

    Sharon's disengagement plan did not go far enough to justify raising

    hopes of a real breakthrough next year.

    Sharon says he is ready to deal
    with a new Palestinian leadership

    "We still demand implementation of the road map and an Israeli

    withdrawal from all the occupied territories so that we can create

    our state," he said, referring to an 18-month-old internationally

    drafted blueprint for Palestinian statehood in 2005.

    PLO chief Abbas has been under mounting fire within the

    Palestinian camp over his comments that the armed uprising has been

    "harmful" and that weapons should be laid down.

    Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, an armed offshoot of Abbas's

    Fatah faction, said that "no one has the right to bring up the

    question of arms" as long as the Israeli occupation continued.

    Islamic movement Hamas went further, claiming

    responsibility for a mortar attack on the southern Gaza Strip

    settlement of Netzer Hazani, in which Israeli military sources said

    11 soldiers had been lightly wounded.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera + Agencies


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