Abbas hopeful over Israel truce

PLO chairman Mahmud Abbas has voiced optimism that armed Palestinian groups will respond to his call to lay down weapons.

    Abbas is favourite to become Palestinian president

    "There has been progress in the negotiations with Palestinian

    factions about ending the militarisation of the intifada," Abbas said

    after arriving in Qatar on Wednesday on the latest stop of a Gulf tour


    "Intensive discussions are under way with the [Hamas] movement

    and others with a view to reaching an agreement to calm down the

    situation," said Abbas, the front-runner to succeed the late Yasir

    Arafat in elections for Palestinian Authority president on 9 January


    "I am hopeful about [the position of] the Palestinian factions

    which had agreed to a 53-day truce when I was prime minister [last

    year], and I hope we will reach an agreement before, or perhaps

    after, the elections," he added.

    Abbas made his remarks as spokesmen for Hamas and Islamic Jihad

    in the Gaza Strip rejected his argument that the use of weapons

    since the September 2000 start of the second intifada had been a


    "Such declarations run counter to the consensus among our people

    over the legitimacy of the resistance," Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman

    for Hamas said. 

    "The problem is the

    Israeli occupation and not the resistance."


    And Muhammad al-Hindi, a leader of Islamic

    Jihad, said "the Palestinians need weapons of resistance against the

    Israeli occupation".

    In an interview on Tuesday with pan-Arab newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat,

    Abbas said "the use of weapons is harmful and it should stop".

    He has previously criticised the "militarisation" of the

    struggle against occupation but it was his most clear-cut

    condemnation of the armed factions' tactics since taking the PLO

    helm after Arafat's recent death.

    "The problem is the

    Israeli occupation and not the resistance"

    Sami Abu Zuhri,
    Hamas spokesman

    His willingness to upset the Palestinian groups has won him praise from

    Israel and its key ally the United States.

    Abbas conceded he had no "guarantees" that armed factions

    would agree to a truce but said a committee was undertaking daily

    talks with the groups, who have "some demands that are not

    impossible [to accommodate]".

    "It is normal that all sides should ask Israel to cease all

    military operations in exchange for a Palestinian truce. This is a

    universal [Palestinian] condition," he said.

    Abbas said the anticipated agreement would also include the

    Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an armed offshoot of his Fatah




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