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Abbas vows he won´t use force against rejectionists (JERUSALEM POST) By KHALED ABU TOAMEH, JANINE ZACHARIA, AND HERB KEINON 06/10/03) Source: http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/A/JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1055125442452
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Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas reiterated his opposition to using force against rejectionist Palestinian groups on Monday, saying the only alternative to dialogue is dialogue.
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A day after Palestinian gunmen killed five soldiers, Abbas said: "We think that dialogue is the only way to achieve our goal. Through this dialogue, we want to achieve calm, not civil war." He said he would continue to push Palestinian factions to declare a cease-fire, warning that terrorist attacks are complicating the situation and jeopardizing the peace process.
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"We reject these acts and if they continue, they will complicate the situation and make the peace process difficult," Abbas said during a press conference in Ramallah.
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This was Abbas´s first press conference since he became prime minister four weeks ago. He has sparked the ire of many Palestinians following his speech at the Aqaba summit last week, where he vowed to end the armed intifada. The press conference was seen as an attempt to ease tensions with Hamas, which announced over the weekend its decision to boycott Abbas to protest his "humiliating" speech.
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Referring to Hamas´s decision, Abbas said: "There is no alternative to negotiations, and this is the choice that the Palestinian government has made to achieve peace.
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The ones who are not interested in negotiations are the ones who are responsible for the continued suffering of the Palestinian people, who are in need of solutions." He said he is determined to pursue talks with Hamas and other groups in a bid to persuade them to accept a cease-fire. But, he added, "We are forcing no one" to take part in the cease-fire talks.
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In Washington, President George W. Bush continued to sound hopeful about the road map´s chances of success and expressed confidence that Abbas would crack down on terrorists, despite Abbas´s public pledge to use only "dialogue."
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"I am optimistic about our chances to bring a peaceful, free Palestinian state in existence to live side by side with a secure Israel," Bush told reporters after briefing his cabinet on his trip to Europe and the Middle East.
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Asked why he is optimistic in light of Abbas´s statements and following the killing of the soldiers, Bush said he is optimistic "because I was able to listen to the prime ministers of Israel, of the Palestinian Authority, talk about the need for peace and for a state."
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He said Abbas had promised him personally, and the Israelis, that he would "work as hard as he can to fight off those elements within the territories that want to use violence to destroy any hope for peace."
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He acknowledged there would be "strains" on the process when Palestinians try to "blow up peace... But I think people are sick of it. The average Palestinian must understand that their lives will improve with the vision of Prime Minister Abbas." He added: "I understand there´s going to be a lot of work to do. But I´m prepared to lead." White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Bush would not be deterred by the attack on the soldiers.
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"What is important now is that the Palestinian Authority is led by someone who is not an extremist, but somebody who is dedicated to implementing the road map," he said. "And the president will continue to work with both the Israelis and the Palestinians, despite the recent violence, to help them to implement the peacemaking side of the road map."
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Abbas canceled a planned visit to the Gaza Strip Sunday after Hamas and other factions refused to meet with him unless he recants his statements at Aqaba. Some Palestinians have suggested that the visit could have been called off because Abbas feared for his life.
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Abbas also said his government condemns Sunday´s terrorist attacks at the Erez crossing point and in Hebron, and at the same time called upon Israel to stop its "aggression" against the Palestinians. On the explosive issue of the right of return, Abbas, who has been strongly condemned for failing to mention the subject in his controversial speech, said: "We cannot accept the Israeli objection on this topic."
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He also promised that his cabinet would place the issue of prisoners at the top of its priorities and would demand their release. Abbas has also been attacked for failing to raise the issue of the prisoners during the Aqaba speech.
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"What I announced in Aqaba and Sharm e-Sheikh is the position to which we are committed, and it has been fully coordinated with President Yasser Arafat," he said. He also said he would seek Palestinian Legislative Council backing for his Aqaba speech.
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Attending the press conference was Ahmed Jbarra, a prisoner who was released last week after spending 28 years in prison for his role in the 1975 refrigerator bombing in Jerusalem´s Kikar Zion. At one stage during the press conference, he walked up behind Abbas and shouted: "They say we are terrorists, but we aren´t. We never killed anyone outside Palestine."
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The remark was seen as a veiled criticism of Abbas. Jbarra later explained that his words were directed at Israel, which he said continues to hold thousands of Palestinian prisoners who fought for their freedom.
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Hamas leaders issued contradictory statements in response to Abbas´s address. Mahmoud Zahar, a Hamas leader in Gaza City, welcomed his statements, saying his movement is prepared to resume talks with him. But Hamas official Ismail Abu Shanab said: "He has not changed his attitude from Aqaba. Therefore the situation is unchanged regarding dialogue." The Prime Minister´s Office had no official comment on Abbas´s comments, saying all that counts now are actions.
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"We are not going to comment on what he said," one senior official in the office said. "Israel remains committed to the road map and the 14 reservations and to the understandings and agreement made at the Aqaba summit. The Palestinian government and its prime minister will be judged by their actions."
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A senior Foreign Ministry official, however, was more upbeat, saying that Abbas´s remarks were significant in that he did not backtrack from his commitments at Aqaba.
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It is clear that Abbas knows the Americans are watching, the official said, and does not want to squander the Bush administration´s confidence by saying one thing at Aqaba and something else in Ramallah.
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"He knows who is watching him," the official said. "This shows his pragmatism." (© 1995-2003, The Jerusalem Post 06/10/03)
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