Hamas rejects US benchmark proposal


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Ramallah/Gaza City : Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Saturday presented to the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) the latest US proposal setting deadlines for confidence-building measures between Israel and the Palestinians but was rejected by Hamas

The so-called "benchmark document," details of which were first revealed Friday, was presented to the PLO's executive committee at a meeting in Ramallah, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said.

However, Erekat said no operative decision was reached as "Israel has already rejected the plan." Deputy Prime Minister Azzam Ahmed from Fatah said meanwhile "the document is not worth discussing."

In addition, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said, "we reject the US security plan, because it dwarfs the Palestinian cause and turns it into a humanitarian cause.

"Hamas rejects US interference into Palestinian affairs," Barhoum added.

The Hamas official said Washington was attempting to strengthen one political faction "at the expense of the other, by supporting the Presidential Guard and other security agencies loyal to Abbas in order to stop the resistance."

The confidence-building steps outlined in the benchmark document include the easing of restrictions on movement in the Palestinian areas by Israel, and action against rocket fire and weapons smuggling in Gaza by the Palestinians, all within the next three months.

Israel said Friday it too would look into the document, although it expressed some reservations related to the easing of restrictions.

The US denied that the proposal contained fixed deadlines. A White House spokesman said the benchmarks were "a flexible set of targets" aimed at improving discussion.

Erekat also said earlier Saturday that the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will not visit the region later this month, in contrast to earlier reports.

"Dr Rice will not come this month and no time has been set for her visit to the Territories," Erekat added.

Abbas is set to meet later Saturday with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is visiting the region.

Meanwhile, Abbas will meet Prime Minister Ismail Haniya of Hamas Sunday in Gaza City to discuss security issues, officials said.

The leaders of the Fatah and Hamas factions will discuss the pending resignation of Interior Minister Hani al-Qawasmeh, who accused security chiefs loyal to Abbas' Fatah of blocking his plans to restore security, particularly in the volatile Gaza Strip.

Erekat also denied reports that Abbas was considering resigning in two months if Western sanctions against the Palestinian coalition government remained in place.