oPt

Palestinian leader Abbas praises U.S. security plan

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By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA, May 7 (Reuters) - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas praised on Monday a U.S. plan that aims to bolster prospects for renewed peace talks with Israel by setting dates for both sides to take confidence-building steps.

"The American document, which the Palestinian leadership has received, included important steps to achieve security in the Palestinian territories," Abbas was quoted as saying by the Palestinian official news agency WAFA.

The plan, Abbas said, was a first step towards "easing the suffering of the Palestinian people," WAFA reported.

The proposal calls for a "timeline" for so-called "benchmark" moves including a crackdown by Palestinian security forces on rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza and an easing of Israeli restrictions on Palestinians.

Palestinian militant groups, however, including al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in Abbas's Fatah faction, urged him to reject it. Israel has also voiced reservations over some aspects of the blueprint.

"The U.S. plan is totally rejected. We urge President Mahmoud Abbas not to deal with it because it aims to satisfy Israel's security and cause internal tension among Palestinians," said Khaled al-Batsh, an Islamic Jihad leader.

Batsh said Islamic Jihad, which has been behind many of the rocket attacks, would hold a dialogue with Abbas on settling their differences. But he cautioned: "No one can stop resistance."

Abbas's aides said he was willing to work with the U.S. plan, albeit with amendments.

"We want it to be implemented. We hope to see the Israelis implement it," Saeb Erekat, a top aide to Abbas, told Reuters.

TRUST-BUILDING

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office said he recognised the "significance of taking trust-building steps to show the Palestinian civilian population that a change is taking place".

Western diplomats said they expected Israel to agree to some of the steps in the plan and to try to negotiate changes to others.

Israel has called the proposal positive but said it could not commit to some of the benchmarks, which include removing several military checkpoints in the occupied West Bank, because of security concerns.

Abbas, in a meeting with Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas in Gaza on Sunday, failed to persuade his prime minister to support the U.S. timeline or reach agreement on a division of security responsibilities, an official close to the talks told Reuters.

The two were to meet again on Monday, when the Palestinian cabinet would also take up the issue, officials said.

The different positions highlight the fragility of a national unity government set up by Islamists and secular nationalists two months ago to end infighting.

Hamas, which leads a Palestinian unity government, has also flatly rejected the U.S. plan, under which Abbas would start deploying his Fatah-dominated forces by mid-June to halt rocket fire and smuggling by Gaza militants.

"I do not think that President Abbas lives in isolation from the Palestinian people or that he will take a decision that contradicts the Palestinian consensus, which advocated the right to resist (Israeli) occupation by all forms," Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said.

Abu Qusai spokesman of the armed wing of Abbas's own Fatah faction, al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, said the U.S. proposal "should not even be discussed."

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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