Thousands take to West Bank streets in support of Abbas visit to Washington
RAMALLAH - Thousands of Palestinians took to the streets of West Bank cities Monday in support of President Mahmud Abbas's visit to Washington for talks with Barack Obama on the peace process with Israel.
Demonstrators waved the Palestinian national flag as well as that of Abbas's Fatah party, chanting "we are with you, president!" as Abbas was to weigh up an anticipated US request to extend the faltering negotiations with Israel.
"We're here today to stand up to pressures upon us and make sure president Abbas adheres to his convictions," said Nasser Eddin al-Shaer -- former Palestinian education minister and member of Fatah's Islamist rivals Hamas -- who joined a 5,000-strong rally in the northern West Bank city of Nablus.
Some 1,500 people turned out in the West Bank administrative centre of Ramallah, and more than 1,000 in the southern flashpoint city of Hebron.
Abbas was to meet President Obama in Washington on Monday, having travelled to the US nearly a fortnight after Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did the same, and as an April 29 deadline for the nine-month negotiations loomed.
Palestinian and Israeli leaders have been unable to move the talks forward since US Secretary of State John Kerry kick-started them at the end of July after intense efforts to bring the sides back to the table following a three-year freeze.
Bitter recriminations have taken precedent, with the two sides refusing to budge on key issues such as the borders of a future Palestinian state, security arrangements in the West Bank, the fate of Palestinian refugees and the final status of Jerusalem, claimed by both sides as a capital.
The US is to propose a framework on which to base final status talks and has been calling for an extension of negotiations pending agreement by both sides on that framework.
Israel has recently kicked up a new obstacle to ending the decades-long conflict, demanding Palestinian recognition of it as a Jewish state, which Palestinian leaders have categorically rejected.