Abbas: Gilad Shalit must be freed
In joint press conference with US secretary of state, Palestinian president calls for release of kidnapped IDF soldier and Palestinians held in Israeli prisons; Rice: US will redouble efforts to help Palestinians; earlier Palestinian PM says Rice's arrival in region divides Arab world, serves Zionist interests; calls on Arab countries ‘not to be dragged into Rice's plans and initiatives’
RAMALLAH - During a joint press conference with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Wednesday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called for the release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and the Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.
Abbas made clear his patience was running thin in efforts to persuade Hamas to soften its policy towards Israel and form a unity government with his Fatah faction which Palestinians hope can lead to an end to a Western aid embargo.
"If this doesn't happen in the near future, all options are open," he said. "But the only option I reject is civil war."
Rice, for her part, told reporters that the US is “Very concerned” about the plight of the Palestinians and pledged to improve living conditions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Rice, in the region in hopes of reviving long-moribund peace efforts, said the US will “redouble efforts” to help the Palestinians.
Her visit has been received with an especially hostile response on the part of Hamas leaders, including the Palestinian prime minister himself, Ismail Haniyeh, who said that Rice's visit is intended mainly to serve the interests of the Zionists.
'All options are open.' Rice-Abbas meeting (Photo: Reuters)
"Rice arrived in the region in order to create a schism within the Arab world that will serve the Zionist interests at the expense of the Palestinian nation. She has come in order to divide the Arab nation and to create a political reality that serves only Israel." Haniyeh called the Arab countries not to be dragged into Rice's plans and initiatives.
Earlier Wednesday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared, "The talks with Hamas on the establishment of a unity government have ended and are not being held anymore.
He also hinted that he may disband the Hamas-led government and the Palestinian parliament.
"We are serious about our plan to establish a new unity government. We will see where things are going in the next two weeks and by then we will decide how to act. I will use my constitutional authorities when the time is right," he told reporters at the Muqataa, accompanied by Bahrain's foreign minister.
Meanwhile, Hamas is embracing for an armed confrontation with Fatah in the West Bank should Abbas disband the government and call for new elections in the Palestinian Authority – a scenario the Islamic group says would plunge the Palestinian territories into total chaos.
Violent clashes between Hamas and rivals Fatah continued Tuesday night in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. A Hamas political activist was assassinated in Qalqilya at close range.
Hamas officials told Ynet that hundreds of automatic rifles have been smuggled into the West Bank to bolster the group's military presence there.
At least 600 new rifles and various shells have been distributed to operatives in the West Bank, the officials said.
Associated Press contributed to the report