Sat Nov 25, 2006 10:05 AM ET
Hamas predicts new uprising if no peace progress
By Alaa Shahine and Nidal al-Mughrabi
CAIRO/GAZA (Reuters) - The militant Islamist group Hamas warned
Israel on Saturday of a third uprising if it failed with the
United States and Europe to make progress toward a Palestinian
state based on 1967 borders.
Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal told a news conference in Cairo
Western powers would have six months to seize on "the historic
chance" to settle the region's longest conflict once a national
unity cabinet is formed between Hamas and rival group Fatah.
But forming the government is subject to talks between the two
groups and faces several obstacles, including obtaining
guarantees to ensure the end of a Western financial ban on the
Palestinian Authority once the cabinet takes power.
Shortly before Meshaal's ultimatum, Palestinian militants fired
rockets into Israel, residents said. Israeli artillery shells
later hit a house and a car in the northern Gaza Strip, wounding
at least two people, hospital officials said.
Israeli forces also killed a Palestinian militant in the strip on
Saturday, and in a separate incident overnight, they shot dead an
unidentified Palestinian while he was approaching the strategic
Karni border crossing.
"We give them six months and the real political horizon will open
up," said Meshaal, in Cairo to discuss efforts to form the unity
government and a possible prisoner exchange with Israel.
If progress is not made, Meshaal said, the Palestinian Authority
could collapse and "the Palestinian people will close all the
political ledgers and come out in a third intifada (uprising)
project and the struggle will be wide open."
Palestinians began an uprising in 2000 in which they carried out
frequent attacks inside Israel. There has been a sharp reduction
in such strikes in the Jewish state since a ceasefire was
declared in early 2005.
Meshaal gave few details of his negotiations in Cairo on a unity
government, seen by Palestinians as a way to end the financial
sanctions imposed after Hamas won the Palestinian parliamentary
elections in January.
One issue delaying the agreement with Fatah, he said, was his
group's rejection to the idea of a cabinet of technocrats based
on competence regardless of their party or factional affiliations
-- an idea meant to keep Hamas at a distance from the levers of
Meshaal also made clear Hamas would not give up its control of
the Palestinian Interior Ministry, which oversees major
Palestinian security services.
Hamas's insistence on controlling the Interior Ministry has
bogged down negotiations between Palestinian President Mahmoud
Abbas of Fatah and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas.
"(Hamas is) the ruling party... Some people want us to give up
the tools of power. This is injustice," Meshaal said.
Senior Palestinian officials said Abbas had planned to announce
on Saturday he was naming a U.S.-trained academic, Mohammad
Shbair, to replace Haniyeh as prime minister.
But Haniyeh has refused to step aside until a final agreement on
a unity government is reached.
Meshaal said there was progress in negotiations, mediated by
Egypt, to swap hundreds of Palestinian prisoners with an Israeli
soldier, Gilad Shalit, who was captured in a cross-border
operation by Palestinian militants, including members of Hamas,
in June. He blamed Israel for the delay but gave no details.
Israel began an offensive in the Gaza Strip after Shalit's
capture. An estimated 402 Palestinians, about half of them
militants, have been killed since the Gaza offensive began, say
Palestinian hospital officials.
Asked is Shalit was in a good health, Meshaal grinned, telling a
reporter: "He is good and he sends his regards."
(Additional reporting by Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem; and Wafa
Amr in Ramallah)
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