Hamas accuses America of blocking EU bid to lift siege

Posted in Israel / Palestine | 23-Feb-07 | Source: Daily Star

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a press conference after a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Friday, Feb. 23, 2007.

Hamas accused the United States on Thursday of trying to thwart European efforts to ease an economic blockade of a new Palestinian unity government. The so-called "Quartet" of Middle East mediators - the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations - repeated a demand on Wednesday that any Palestinian government renounce violence, recognize Israel and accept interim peace deals.

Though the unity government fell short of directly meeting those demands, Western diplomats said the agreement between Hamas and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction widened divisions within the Quartet.

The US and Israel want to shun the unity government; Russia and some European governments favor a softer line.

Abbas on Thursday brought his struggle for Western support to Germany, which holds the European Union presidency. Abbas arrived in Berlin after meeting British Premier Tony Blair.

Khaled Meshaal, the political leader of Hamas, will hold talks on the Middle East peace process in Moscow Monday, Russia's Foreign Ministry said.

Hamas Cabinet spokesman Ghazi Hamad said the Islamist movement was encouraged by what it called a "wait and see" approach by the Quartet.

Citing divisions between the US and some European countries over policy, Hamad said: "I believe there is a possibility to change the Quartet's position in a more positive manner to deal with the government."

But Palestinian Information Minister Youssef Rizqa of Hamas said: "It [the US] aims to undermine the European and Russian efforts in order to continue the siege imposed on our people."

Israel pointed to statements by the Quartet after a meeting in Berlin as a sign that the group would hold the new government to the three conditions.

"They're not obstacles to peace, they are prerequisites for a successful peace process," Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said.

The US-led embargo on the Hamas-led government has pushed the Palestinian Authority to the brink of financial collapse and raised poverty rates in Gaza and occupied West Bank.

The first report of its kind since the West slapped an embargo on the Hamas-led government said Thursday that nearly half of Palestinians are unable, or risk being unable, to access minimum food supplies.

"Almost half of the population remains food insecure or is at risk of becoming food insecure," said the first joint World Food Program and Food and Agriculture Organization report on the Palestinians since 2003.

The WFP defines "food insecurity" as the ability of a household to produce or access the minimum food needed for a healthy and active life.

Thirty-four percent of Palestinians were classified as "food insecure" with another 12 percent at risk of becoming food insecure, said WFP official Gregory Barrow.

A separate independent report commissioned by the UN compares Israel's actions in the Occupied Territories to that of apartheid South Africa - charges that drew angry rebukes from Israel. The report by John Dugard, independent investigator on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for the Human Rights Council, is to be presented next month, but it has been posted on the body's Web site.

In it, Dugard, a South African lawyer who campaigned against apartheid in the 1980s, says "Israel's laws and practices in the [Palestinian territories] certainly resemble aspects of apartheid."

The 24-page report catalogues several charges against the Jewish state ranging from restrictions on Palestinian movement, house demolitions and preferential treatment given to Jewish settlers in the West Bank.

"Can it seriously be denied that the purpose of such action is to establish and maintain domination by one racial group - Jews - over another racial group - Palestinians - and systematically oppress them?" he asks.

Israel's ambassador in Geneva criticized Dugard for directing attacks only at the Jewish state. "Any conclusions he may draw are therefore fundamentally flawed and purposely biased," said Yitzhak Levanon. - Agencies