PA Chairman Says He Will Not Allow Civil War in Territories

Remarks come day after Abbas launched unprecedented attack on Hamas, branding its leader a 'civil war monger.'

Arnon Regular, AP
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Arnon Regular, AP

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas vowed Tuesday to prevent civil war breaking out among Palestinians as tensions rose between his Fatah faction and the Hamas-led government.

In interviews with anti-Syrian newspapers in Jordan and Lebanon, CNN's Turkish edition released Monday, Abbas launched an unprecedented attack against Hamas, calling its Syrian-based leader a "civil war monger."

The tensions between the two groups flared into a shootout at the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza on Sunday, when gunmen from Fatah's Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade clashed with Hamas guards. At least four people were wounded in that confrontation.

"We wish such events did not occur, but we will absolutely not allow civil war," Abbas told Turkish reporters Tuesday during a visit to Ankara.

"Some people may want Palestine to be destroyed, but they will not succeed. We will not permit such destructive clashes. We have red lines and we will not let any civil war occur," he said in remarks translated from Arabic.

He did not say how he would prevent further clashes.

Abbas also appealed to the international community not to punish his people because of Hamas' stance on Israel and peacemaking.

"We don't want financial aid to be cut because it is the Palestinian people who will pay the price," said Abbas, winding up two days of talks with Turkish leaders.

Western states froze financial aid to the Palestinian Authority in the wake of Hamas' election victory, on the grounds that the militant group refuses to renounce violence, recognize Israel or abide by previously signed peace agreements.

In the Monday interviews, Abbas implicitly threatened to disband the Hamas government, and called Hamas' political leader Khaled Meshal a "civil war monger" for trying, under Syrian influence, to ignite internal Palestinian warfare.

Abbas also hinted for the first time Monday that he has the power to disband the government.

"The constitution gives me clear and definite authority to remove a government from power, but I don't want to use this authority," he said in the CNN-Turk interview that was broadcast Monday, but recorded before his arrival in Turkey the day before. "Everyone should know that by law this power is in my hands."

Abbas added that "Hamas has to face the facts and establish communication with Israel," or the Palestinian people would be left to starve due to the party's policies that have led to a cut of funding from the United States and European Union.

"Without help, we can't stand on our feet long," he warned.

The CNN-Turk interview turned out to be part of a concerted response to last week's attack by Meshal against the "corrupt" PA.

It emerged Monday that Abbas had given a joint interview at his Amman residence last week to two of the most blatantly anti-Syrian media outlets in the Middle East - the Jordanian daily Al Ra'i and the Lebanese Al-Mustaqbal, the newspaper belonging to the family of the late prime minister Rafik Hariri.

In the interview, Abbas unleashed an unprecedented and atypical personal attack against Meshal, calling him a "civil war monger" and saying Hamas was behaving "as though it were in the opposition."

"Hamas can hold whatever positions it likes, but the Palestinian government must secure international and Arab legitimization, and recognize the signed agreements with Israel and the world, because any other position will deal a mortal blow to the Palestinian people," Abbas said.

The newspaper interviews were timed to coincide with his visit to Turkey, and have been accompanied by threatening messages by Abbas' associates regarding plans to expand the presidential security service to combat the internal Palestinian conflict.

Contrary to reports, Abbas said he has no intention of meeting Meshal in the near future. Playing on Meshal's name, which means "torch" in Arabic, Abbas said that "we never raised arms against one of our people, unless he was hired by an outside force and his actions were in the manner of igniting torches of civil war in our midst."

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh tried to defuse the situation on Monday. "There is no crisis between the office of the presidency and the government, and any political dispute will be resolved by political means," he said after a cabinet meeting in Gaza.

Nonetheless, a statement issued by Hamas headquarters in Damascus again lambasted Abbas and his associates for "serving the Zionist enemy" by leaving the government helpless.

"The attack on Khaled Meshal is what will lead to civil war, and the one who issued it should recant," the statement said.

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