New Palestinian peace deal draws criticism from Israel
WARRING Palestinian factions have reconciled in a long-awaited pact that their leaders hope will draw a line under four years of bitter division, which followed a short but bloody civil war.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who heads Fatah, and Khaled Meshaal, the Damascus-based leader of Hamas, the Islamist group in charge of Gaza, joined yesterday in Cairo to ratify the unity deal.
It is seen by most Palestinians as a step towards achieving a lasting peace with Israel. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, immediately called the pact as a "tremendous blow for peace and a great victory for terrorism".
After months of fruitless talks, a small team of negotiators helped put together the deal during secret meetings in Ramallah, Gaza, Damascus and Cairo, culminating in its signing by lower-ranking party officials the day before. 11 other factions have also signed.
"Hamas was ready to pay any price for internal Palestinian reconciliation," Mr Meshaal said in Cairo, alluding to reports that the Islamist party had instigated the surprise rapprochement. "The only battle of the Palestinians is against Israel."
Pledging his commitment to the deal, Mr Abbas said: "We turn forever the black page of division. We are certain of success so long as we are united."
But the accord is a risky gamble for the pro-west leader, who has abandoned stalled peace talks with Israel to pursue a diplomatic offensive, which is expected to culminate in a move in September to seek United Nations recognition of a Palestinian state, based on the borders of 1967.
While the rapprochement would bolster Mr Abbas's claim to represent all Palestinians, it could also alienate Western support and threaten millions of dollars in financial aid. At Israel's urging, the United States and Britain both regard Hamas as a terrorist group.
When the accord was first unveiled last week, Mr Netanyahu warned it could lead to a Hamas takeover of the West Bank and commanded Mr Abbas to reject Hamas for peace. The Palestinian leader responded yesterday by telling Israel to choose "between settlements and peace". (© Indpendent News Service)