U.S.-allied Arab States Take Abbas' Side in Row With Hamas

Arab ministers also back PLO, whom Hamas has called to be replaced by body less supportive of Abbas.

ABU DHABI - Foreign ministers of U.S.-allied Arab states meeting in Abu Dhabi yesterday said they were seeking to consolidate Arab support for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in his row with Islamist group Hamas.

"Our aim is to boost Arab solidarity, to mobilize our backing for the Arab peace initiative and to bolster support for the Palestinian Authority under the leadership of President Mahmoud Abbas," the United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan told Reuters.

Sheikh Abdullah said ministers of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, Yemen and the Palestinian Authority also backed the Palestine Liberation Organization as the "sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people," after Hamas called for it to be replaced by a body less dominated by allies of Abbas. Egypt has been trying with U.S. backing to broker a long-term truce that would end Palestinian arms smuggling and also lead to reopening the coastal enclave's border crossings with Israel.

Arab ministers meeting in Abu Dhabi backed Egypt's efforts and were preparing the ground for a donors conference in Egypt on February 22 aimed at helping the Palestinian people, with the full involvement of the PA.

"The ministers who met here today were all in support of the Egyptian initiative and Cairo's effort to achieve calm between the Palestinian and the Israeli sides," Sheikh Abdullah said. Responding to Egypt's mediation, Hamas said on Monday it would be prepared to halt hostilities for a year if a deal could be reached on lifting Israel's blockade of Gaza.

A Hamas delegation planned to meet Egyptian mediators in Cairo yesterday to deliver a response to the truce proposals. Hamas, which beat Abbas' secular Fatah faction in a January 2006 election and took over the Gaza Strip 18 months later, has been shunned by Western powers for refusing to renounce violence and recognize Israel.

But Hamas receives support from Iran and other regional allies and levies local taxes. In reference to Iran's role, Sheikh Abdullah said the Abu Dhabi meeting was expected to be the first of several in the coming weeks aimed at bridging differences among Arab countries.