Arab League States Split on Support for Abbas Over Hamas

Syrian source: Hamas PM also democratically elected; Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia back Abbas; Aide: Abbas rejects Arab League offer for Meshal meeting; Jordan's King to Rice: World must resume aid to PA.

The Arab League member states found themselves divided Saturday over their response to the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip and the crisis in the Palestinian Authority.

Syrian sources told an Arabic language newspaper that Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, fired by PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah following the Hamas action in Gaza, had been democratically elected.

The sources emphasized that Syria supports both "factions of the Palestinian government - that of Fatah and that of Hamas."

Israel and the West have announced full support for Abbas, as have Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

During an emergency Arab League meeting Friday to discuss the events in Gaza, the three moderate Arab states threw their support behind Mahmoud Abbas' leadership, Syria and other states avoided expressing their full support for him.

The Arab League on Friday called for an immediate halt to the Palestinian infighting, so that the unity of the West Bank and Gaza Strip could be preserved.

"We are seeking a national unity in Palestine and we stand against the events that we have witnessed in the last days," said Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, adding there must be an immediate and full halt to the violence.

Moussa said that Arab nations want to serve the Palestinian cause, and not one faction against another. "The fighting is unacceptable for the Arab world," he said.

The League chief backed the idea of a new government made up of people independent of the factions. "That would give a chance for understanding in the context of national unity," he said.

Arab governments will set up a fact-finding committee to look into the recent events in Gaza and report back to the Arab foreign ministers within a month.

Abbas rejects Arab League offer to arrange meeting with MeshalAbbas on Saturday rejected a request by the head of the Arab League to meet with Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal, an Abbas aide said.

The PA chairman had received a call from Moussa, who offered to arrange such a meeting, said the aide, speaking on condition of anonymity. He said that Abbas vehemently rejected the offer.

Earlier Saturday, Abbas adviser Yasser Abed Rabbo told a news conference that the president would not engage in a dialogue with killers, referring to Hamas.

Jordan's King Abdullah II on Saturday discussed Hamas' takeover of Gaza in a telephone conversation with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and urged international donors to resume "all forms of aid" to the Palestinians, an official statement said.

"The monarch reviewed with Rice latest Middle East developments particularly in the Gaza Strip," according to the statement issued by the royal court.

"The king urged the world community to shoulder its responsibilities at this critical stage and move swiftly to extend all forms to the Palestinian people to enable them surmount the difficult circumstances facing them," it added.

World leaders give vote of confidence to AbbasSaudi Arabia said Friday that Palestinians have come close to putting the last nail in their coffin and called on both Hamas and Fatah to revive the unity government.

In a speech at the Arab League emergency meeting, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said the latest fighting between Fatah and Hamas had served the interests of Israel.

"Today the Palestinians have come close to putting by themselves the last nail in the coffin of the Palestinian cause," he told other Arab foreign ministers in closed session.

"The Palestinian leaderships must now issue an order, not just to stop the fighting immediately but also to outlaw fighting, and to return to dialogue," he added.

Diplomats say Saudi Arabia has tended to favor the Fatah movement of Abbas but not to the same extent as the governments of Egypt and Jordan.

Prince Saud added: "It would be best for our Palestinian brothers to return to their commitment to the Mecca agreement [on Palestinian unity] and work to carry it out."

Jordan on Friday also expressed its support for Abbas, calling him the legitimate Palestinian leader.

"The government rejects any dissent or defiance to the legitimate authority and stressed the necessity to protect the Palestinian National Authority and its President Mahmoud Abbas," spokesman Nasser Judeh said in a statement carried by the official Petra news agency.

King Abdullah called Abbas to express sadness for what was described as the deteriorating situation in Gaza and called for an immediate end to the bloody infighting among Palestinians, the official Petra news agency reported.

Egypt also backed Abbas on Friday, saying all Palestinians should rally behind him as leader.

An Egyptian government statement also condemned Hamas for taking control of the Gaza Strip on Thursday and undermining what it called legitimate Palestinian institutions.

The statement said: "The Egyptian government calls on all Palestinians ... to rally around the legitimate leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian National Authority ... led by President Mahmoud Abbas."

Egypt called on foreign governments to end what it called their policy of blockading the territories.

Hamas did not send a representative to the Arab League meeting. Fatah's envoy, Palestinian Deputy Prime Minister Azzam al-Ahmed, presented a list of violations committed by Hamas and called on Arab states to have a decisive stance in dealing with the crisis, according to an Egyptian official who declined to be identified.

However, Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi said on Friday that Palestinians should deal with their own problems, asking other Arab countries to stay out of a power struggle between Hamas and Fatah.

"The Palestinian issue has to be left to the Palestinians to deal with. Arabs have to stay away of the problem. What have Arabs done for the Palestinians? They have only exploited the issue for their own interests," Gaddafi told Al Jazeera television.

EU, Quartet express full support for AbbasEuropean Union authorities on Friday voiced their backing for Abbas in the conflict with Hamas following the militant group's takeover of the Gaza Strip.

"The EU presidency once again reiterates its complete support for President Abbas," Germany, which holds the EU presidency, said in a statement.

"It calls upon all sides to support President Abbas," Germany said.

EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner called Abbas "the legitimate president of all Palestinians."

U.S. President George Bush told President-elect Shimon Peres Friday in reference to developments in Gaza this week that "terrorists must not be allowed to flourish and succeed."

Bush also said there is a need to distinguish between the moderates and extremists in the Palestinian Authority.

Meanwhile, a European Union spokeswoman said Friday the international Quartet of Middle East peace mediators - the EU, U.S., United Nations and Russia - pledged full support to Abbas as he seeks to build an emergency government.

"There was a clear message of support to President Abbas especially in this difficult time of forming an emergency government," a spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said after a teleconference with top officials from the United States, Russia and the United Nations.

Quartet members also expressed "great concern" over the humanitarian situation for Palestinians after the Islamist Hamas movement seized control of the Gaza Strip, ousting Abbas' Fatah faction with which it had governed in an uneasy coalition.

UN calls for calm in Gaza

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reiterated support Friday for Abbas and called for the restoration of calm, expressing concern about the welfare of ordinary Palestinians.

"The shocking violence of recent days in Gaza, much of which has involved violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, has caused great alarm and sadness around the world," UN deputy spokeswoman Marie Okabe said. "The secretary-general is deeply concerned for the welfare of ordinary Palestinians and calls for full respect for their human rights."

"The secretary-general is deeply disappointed at the failure of the national unity government, and the violence, destruction and fragmentation that has brought about its demise," Okabe said. "This must end immediately and calm must be restored."

Okabe said the secretary-general "renews his support to president Abbas as he moves to discharge his responsibilities under the Palestinian Basic Law."

"Ban remains in close consultation with the parties, regional partners, and the other members of the Quartet on the way ahead, she said."

At the same time, Okabe said the "UN is deeply concerned at the ongoing crisis particularly in view of the work of UN agencies in delivering humanitarian assistance to a large majority of the population in Gaza, especially UNRWA which helps Palestinian refugees and the World Food Program."

"The United Nations is determined to ensure the safety and security of the large number of United Nations employees working in Gaza, and to ensure that they can continue their vital work to assist a large section of the Palestinian population in Gaza, many of whom are dependent on emergency aid for daily sustenance," Okabe said.

"This will require the cooperation of all parties to ensure appropriate security and access conditions for the passage of humanitarian goods and personnel both within the Gaza Strip and at key crossing points," she said.

Larsen: Hamas carried out de facto coup

Hamas carried out a de facto coup d'etat against the democratically elected government in Gaza which is a serious blow to the creation of a Palestinian state and has implications for the entire Middle East, the former United Nations envoy to the Middle East said Friday.

Terje Roed-Larsen, now the president of the International Peace Academy and a UN envoy for Lebanon-Syria issues, called the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip a defining moment in the history of the Middle East and the history of Middle East conflicts.

"We've had an intra-Arab strife, de facto a civil war in Gaza, which has led to a de facto coup d'etat," he said. "This has forced a new agenda on the table of the Arab League and the Arab world as well as the broader international community."

"We have now a de facto mini-state in Gaza after the coup d'etat headed by the former prime minister, and we have a legitimate, democratically elected president, Mahmoud Abbas, and his recently appointed prime minister, in Ramallah in the West Bank," Roed-Larsen said.

He called Hamas' actions completely counterproductive to the just aspirations of the Palestinian people and the most serious blow against the establishment of a Palestinian state.

He said it was of utmost importance for the international community to launch a diplomatic drive that would include moderate Arab states, Europe and the United States under the legitimacy of the United Nations.

At the core of the international alliance, he said, should be the Arab Peace Initiative and the roadmap to peace.

"Time is running out and we are now probably facing the last possibility of proving that the negotiating table is a better tool than the barrel of a gun in order for the Palestinians to reach their aspirations," Roed-Larsen said.

He said all parties must accept new elections where the Palestinian people will have to make a choice between the repressive militants of the now de facto rulers of Gaza and those who want to move forward with peaceful means in order to reach their political goals.

"This will require support from the international community and Israel," Roed-Larsen said.