Abbas says to continue peace talks with Israel despite Gaza crisis

By Xinhua

Ramallah : Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah on Tuesday rejected halting peace negotiations with Israel as the Hamas-run Gaza Strip is facing a humanitarian crisis thanks to Israel’s unprecedented blockade.

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“Stopping the talks with the Israeli side will not help … the talks should be instead intensified to ease the suffering of our people … to convince the other side that the hardship should be ended,” Abbas told a news conference after meeting with visiting Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen in the West Bank city Ramallah.

But on Jan. 17, Israel decided to tighten a siege that has been imposed on Gaza since mid-June last year and close all crossings leading to Gaza.

Since then, Israel has been barring fuels and basic food products from reaching the Gaza Strip, in retaliation to ongoing makeshift rocket attacks carried out by Palestinian militants from Gaza against Israel.

The Gaza Strip, home to nearly 1.5 million residents, heavily depends on outside aid inflow of almost everything, from basic foodstuffs to medicine.

The lack of fuel had forced Gaza’s only power plant to shut down on Sunday, leaving the Hamas-run enclave dependant on some 140 megawatts of electricity that Israel and Egypt provide.

On Tuesday morning, the Gaza Strip received five fuel tankers, which temporarily eased a humanitarian crisis emerging after five days of crossing closure by Israel.

On this, Abbas said Tuesday’s fuel deliveries into the Gaza Strip were insufficient, adding that the Palestinian Authority (PA)exerted intensive efforts to ease the Israeli siege on Gaza.

“We don’t want our people to be punished for their endurance while they do nothing … it is not the people who fire the rockets,” Abbas said, repeating that the home-made rockets were “playful and must be halted.”

He also said the PA was ready to take control of Gaza Strip’s crossings. Pro-Abbas security forces had been in charge of running Gaza’s crossings until mid-June of 2007 when Hamas militants drove them out of the coastal strip.

Since then, Israel refuses to deal with Hamas, which is listed as a terrorist organization by the Jewish state and its U.S. ally, and has been keeping all Gaza terminals closed.

“The problem here was with those who prevent us from taking over the crossings,” said Abbas, referring to Hamas which said it will oppose any such move if it is not coordinated with the Hamas authorities in Gaza.

After last June’s deadly infighting, Abbas sacked the Hamas-led Palestinian government, which was rejected by Hamas. As a result, the geographically-divided Palestinian territories was further politically split — with Hamas ruling the Gaza Strip and Abbas’ Fatah running the West Bank.