Abbas urges US action on Palestine

2010-11-11 22:41

Ramallah - Mahmud Abbas called on Thursday for concrete US efforts to deliver a Palestinian state, as crowds marked the sixth anniversary of Yasser Arafat's death.

The Palestinian president said he would hold US President Barack Obama, who helped relaunch direct peace talks in early September, to his pledge to seek the creation of a Palestinian state within a year.

"We consider this statement to be a commitment by President Obama, not just a slogan, and we hope that next year he won't say to us 'we apologise, we can't,'" Abbas said in an address to tens of thousands.

In a September address at the United Nations, Obama insisted new peace talks could succeed, despite grinding to a halt three weeks after they started over the issue of settlement construction in the West Bank.

"When we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations - an independent, sovereign state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel," Obama said.

In a speech delivered at Arafat's grave site, where a new museum is being built to honour the veteran leader, Abbas vowed he would not negotiate while Israel continued to build settlements on Palestinian land.

He pledged to uphold Arafat's insistence that Palestinians would one day secure east Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state and the right of return for refugees.

Palestinian divisions

The Palestinians have refused to continue negotiations unless Israel reinstates a ban on settlement construction, which expired on September 26, and have threatened to seek UN recognition for an independent state.

Abbas defended that proposal on Thursday, despite a warning from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton against "unilateral steps".

"We are thinking of going to the Security Council, and that is considered a unilateral act on our part, but when they (the Israelis) take unilateral actions like the wall, incursions, assassinations, uprooting olive trees, that isn't considered unilateral," he said.

In a sign of continuing Palestinian divisions, Hamas forces in Gaza banned public commemoration of Arafat's death, and a senior advisor to Ismail Haniya, the head of the Hamas government in Gaza, criticised Abbas's speech.

Abbas "speaks as a political analyst and not as a leader with the authority to make decisions," Yussef Rizq said in a statement.

In Ramallah, the political capital of the West Bank, crowds waving Palestinian flags and the yellow banners of the Fatah party that Arafat founded poured into the square across from the mausoleum where their iconic leader is buried.

Arafat died in a French hospital on November 11 2004, after several weeks of treatment. French officials, citing privacy laws, refused to reveal the precise cause of death or the nature of his condition, fuelling a host of rumours and theories as to the cause of his illness.

Led his people

To mark the anniversary, Palestinians in the West Bank are holding a series of events, including film screenings, to celebrate the life of a man remembered by many as a passionate proponent of Palestinian rights who led his people through nearly four decades of armed struggle and peace negotiations.

But the Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights said Hamas officials had ruled out any anniversary events, citing violence that marred a 2007 rally, when Hamas forces opened fire, killing seven.

Fatah condemned the ban, with spokesperson Ahmed al-Assad saying the "shameful act punishes not only the Fatah movement in Gaza but the entire Palestinian people."

Fatah sources in Gaza told AFP Hamas forces broke up a private commemoration event inside the offices of a Fatah member.

The Foreign Press Association, which represents foreign reporters in Israel and the Palestinian territories, accused Hamas of harassing and intimidating journalists trying to cover an Arafat memorial in the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

"International television crews were detained and ordered to turn over news footage to the authorities," the group said, calling a news blackout on the event "unacceptable".