Abbas in Sharp Message to Hamas: Shape Up or Palestinian Unity Government Will Fail

Palestinian president says PA will no longer tolerate Hamas' behavior, adding that the Palestinian government must operate as one, even in Gaza.

AP

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas sent Hamas a sharp message late Saturday, warning the Islamist organization that it must drastically change its conduct it wanted to continue working with the Palestinian Authority in a unity government.

"We cannot continue working with Hamas this way," Abbas said upon arrival in Cairo for a three-day visit, where he is scheduled to meet with Arab League foreign ministers over the reconciliation agreement with Hamas and attempts to renew peace negotiations with Israel.

"There are 27 undersecretaries of ministries who are running the Gaza Strip, and the national unity government cannot do anything on the ground," Abbas said, referring to the Hamas officials who continued to hold positions of power in Gaza, despite the reconciliation agreement which merged the Islamist group into the Palestinian government. "The Palestinian Authority must be unified and operate within the framework of one regime, even in the Strip."

Regarding the transcripts of his meetings with Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal in Qatar, which were released last week, Abbas said: "About 80-90% of what was published is true, but I never said that Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia are opposed to the reconciliation government."

The Palestinian president also spoke about the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, and the devastation caused to residents there in the wake of the fighting waged by Hamas and the Palestinian factions against Israel last month. "The Palestinian leadership is doing everything it can to ease the suffering of the Palestinian people in Gaza, and is working urgently to improve their situation."

The number of displaced and homeless in Gaza has neared 1 million, Abbas, said, with 280,000 to 461,643 currently taking shelter in UNWRA schools across the Strip. The damage caused to Gaza this year was "hundreds of times" worse than the wars of 2009 and 2012, he said.

The Palestinian president assessed that repairing the damage in Gaza would cost some $7 million dollars and would take about 15 years to repair. 

In response to Abbas, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri wrote on Facebook that there was no justification for the remarks and that they were based on faulty and imprecise information. He said that an additional meeting would be held between Hamas and Fatah in the near future to continue reconciliation talks. Fatah has established a committee comprising five members of its central committee to oversee the talks and the crisis between the two factions. 

Israel's opposition chief and Labor leader Issac Herzog, who spoke with Abbas on Friday, criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for not negotiating with Abbas, adding that there was an "historic opporunity" at hand to work in tandem to isolate Hamas and reach a permanent agreement.

"Netanyahu insists on missing a historic opportunity. His actions lead to the miserable conclusion that he is simply not interested to reach a diplomatic settlement and prefers to leave Israel isolated," Herzog said.

Abbas means to challenge both Hamas and Israel, Herzog added, and therefore, "Netanyahu must do what is necessary and start talking with Abbas in order to isolate Hamas and to move toward a diplomatic agreement.