First Published: 2007-02-03

Hamas urges Quartet to open talks

Quartet reaffirms boycott of Palestinian government, Major powers endorse US initiative on Israeli-Palestinian ‘peace.’


Middle East Online

Calling on major diplomatic players to open a dialogue

GAZA CITY - Palestinian foreign minister Mahmud al-Zahar called on the so-called Quartet of major diplomatic players to open a dialogue Friday with his democratically elected government, his spokesman said.

"Foreign minister Zahar sent a letter to the members of the Quartet (the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States) asking them to open a dialogue with the Palestinian government in order to reach stability and calm in the region," Taher al-Nunu said.

Major powers endorse US initiative

Major powers endorsed a US plan Friday to accelerate efforts to achieve an Arab-Iraeli peace deal and establish a Palestinian state.

But the initiative was marred by renewed Palestinian factional violence, a rift with Russia over whether to bring Syria into the process and a weary skepticism that Israeli and Palestinian leaders are strong enough to lead their people to peace.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hosted the meeting of her counterparts from Russia, the European Union and United Nations following a day of clashes in the Gaza Strip between forces loyal to the Western-backed Palestinian president, Mahmud Abbas, and the radical Islamic movement Hamas.

At least 25 people died in the fighting before the two sides agreed on a truce late Friday, but there was no certainty the ceasefire would stop the worst violence yet in a year-long power struggle between Abbas' secular Fatah party and Hamas.

In a final communique read out by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the so-called Mideast Quartet expressed its "deep concern" over the factional fighting and called for an end to continuing Palestinian militant attacks on Israel.

But the main purpose of the meeting, the first in five months for the largely inactive group, was to provide backing to Rice's effort to jump-start the Quartet's still-born 2003 "road map" for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

The plan envisaged a three-phase effort focused first on ending Palestinian attacks on Israel and restricting Israeli activities inside the occupied territories and then moving on to steps towards the establishment of a Palestinian state, a goal it hoped to achieve in 2005.

But the plan never moved beyond stage one.

On Friday, the group supported Rice's new approach to move forward on two fronts -- strengthening Abbas' ability to govern and ensure security while, in parallel, holding talks on critical "final status" issues like the borders of a Palestinian state and the future of Jerusalem.

"There is simply no reason to avoid the subject of how we get to a Palestinian state," Rice said at a joint press conference with Ban, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

Rice declined to set any new timetable for the process.

Friday's meeting was a prelude to a three-way meeting later this month between Rice, Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Washington has billed the encounter as the premiere for its new peace drive, but given the political weakness of both Abbas and Olmert, success is far from guaranteed.

Although he is the elected Palestinian president, Abbas saw his authority eclipsed when Hamas won elections a year ago and gained control of the self-rule government.

The Quartet responded by suspending critical aid to the government, provoking an economic breakdown in the territories.

Olmert has been severely weakened by his perceived mismanagement of last year's war against the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon.

"We're doing this in an environment where, frankly, there is a lot of stress on each of the parties," a senior US official acknowledged.

"The conditions are such that expectations may outstrip the ability of the parties right now to deal with their situation," he said.

Steinmeier, participating because Germany currently holds the rotating EU presidency, was equally cautious.

"We are realistic enough to know it's not something that can be achieved overnight," he said.

Abbas has been trying for months to negotiate a unity government pact with Hamas which would meet the Quartet's conditions for lifting the aid embargo -- recognition of Israel, a renunciation of violence and compliance with past peace agreements with the Jewish state.

Hamas has refused.

The Quartet on Friday reaffirmed the boycott would remain in place until a Palestinian government that agrees to the principles is in place.

But that unity frayed when Russia argued publicly in favor of opening a dialogue with Syria -- which hosts Hamas' hardline leadership -- a stance Rice has ruled out.

"Syria could play a constructive role," Lavrov said, calling the "boycotts and isolation" backed by Washington "counterproductive."

Both Hamas and Fatah condemned the Quartet's aid boycott stance on Saturday, with Hamas calling it "decisions that ignore reality" and Fatah saying it had hoped "the oppressive siege on the Palestinian people" would be lifted.


Senior Saudi prince blasts Trump's "opportunistic" Jerusalem move

Kuwait ruler’s son named defence minister

Israel PM faces renewed pressure in Europe

Bahraini civil society group criticised after Israel visit

Saudi Arabia lifts decades-long ban on cinemas

EU says Syria war ‘ongoing’ despite Russia pullout

Istanbul nightclub gunman refuses to testify

Integrating Syrians in Turkey carries implications

US opinion views Muslims and Arabs more favourably but political affiliation makes a difference

Iranian conservative protesters say Trump hastening end of Israel

Jordan referred to UN for failing to arrest Sudanese president

Turkey demands life for journalists in coup bid trial

Netanyahu expects EU to follow suit on Jerusalem

Putin orders withdrawal of ‘significant’ amount of troops from Syria

Putin to meet with Sisi in Cairo

GCC at a critical juncture

Houthi rebels tighten grip on Sanaa after Saleh’s assassination

Israel’s Syrian air strikes risk renewing escalation as Iran expands presence in Golan

Qatar to acquire 24 Typhoon fighters from UK

Palestinian stabs Israeli guard in ‘terrorist’ attack

UAE’s Sheikh Mohammed says US Jerusalem decision could help terrorists

Fateh encourages more protests, refuses to meet Pence

Chinese electric carmaker to open Morocco factory

Iraqi victory over IS remains fragile

Morocco’s renewed ties with South Africa likely to consolidate support for Western Sahara stance

Lebanese security forces fire tear gas at protestors

Syria’s justice system: ‘working without a written law'

Egypt revives controversial desert capital project

Iran sentences fugitive ex-bank chief to jail

Iraq announces 'end of the war against Daesh'

Israeli air strike kills 2 in Gaza

UK foreign minister in Iran to push for Briton's release

Turkey's Erdogan seeks to lead Muslim response on Jerusalem

Iraqi Christians celebrate in town retaken from IS

Isolated US defiant at UN Security Council

Putin to visit Turkey for talks on Jerusalem, Syria

Protests sweep Muslim world over Jerusalem

US urges Saudi to show caution in regional disputes

Thousands march in Istanbul to protest US Jerusalem move

Bahrain Shiite leader undergoes surgery

Malaysians, Indonesians protest US move on Jerusalem

EU, Jordan voice backing for Palestinian state

Clashes in West Bank over US Jerusalem move

Macron appeals for calm over US Jerusalem embassy move

World leaders to 're-legitimise' Lebanon PM at Paris talks