Hamas Demonstrators Denouce Abbas Speech

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Angry Hamas supporters took to the streets of Gaza City after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas delivered a stinging condemnation of the Islamist movement. Speaking from the Fatah-controlled West Bank, Abbas says there could be no dialogue with the "killers and coup-seekers" who routed Fatah forces from Gaza.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

If you were wondering if the two Palestinian factions might reconcile anytime soon, consider this. The leader of one faction, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, is accusing the leadership of the other faction, Hamas, of seeking to build an empire of darkness. Mahmoud Abbas says he will never negotiate with what he called terrorists. He was addressing Palestinians for the first time in the weeks since Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip.

NPR's Peter Kenyon reports, says the Palestinian divide grows. Gazans fear the coming weeks will bring only more misery.

PETER KENYON: In a televised address, the normally mild mannered Abbas accused Hamas of engineering a coup in Gaza and plotting an effort to assassinate him, a charge Hamas denies. He also said the time for dialogue was over.

President MAHMOUD ABBAS (Palestinian Authority): (Through translator) There will be no dialogue with these killers and coup-seekers.

(Soundbite of applause)

KENYON: Abbas also said his emergency government would not ignore the people of Gaza, but it wasn't clear what influence Fatah could have in Gaza. Hamas' answer was predictably defiant.

(Soundbite of crowd chanting)

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

KENYON: Hamas supporters clogged the streets of Gaza City following the evening prayers and attacked effigies of the Palestinian president. In a matter of days, Palestinians have witnessed bloody infighting, the dissolution of the national unity government, and the near total isolation of some one and half million Gazans and their Islamist ruling party.

Aid officials worry that Gaza could soon become even more of an economic basket case, totally dependent on humanitarian donations for survival. Senior Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar dismissed Abbas and the Fatah emergency government as collaborators with Israel and the U.S., and said Hamas would build its own government in Gaza.

Mr. MAHMOUD AL-ZAHAR (Senior Hamas Official): Fatah is the big loser of this confrontation. We are looking for Fatah, real Fatah - not the collaborator with the Israeli - to run a constructive organization to help the Palestinian issue and to participate in the process of development.

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing in foreign language)

KENYON: Perhaps not coincidentally, just a few hours later, a new Fatah party announced its presence in Gaza, one that bore no resemblance to the original. It calls itself Fatah al-Yasser, after the later Yasser Arafat. But unlike the secular Fatah movement first led by Arafat, this party opened its meeting with a verse from the Koran. The speakers, mainly disgruntled former Fatah members, were flanked by Hamas guards armed with AK-47s.

Unidentified Man #2: (Foreign language spoken)

(Soundbite of applause)

KENYON: The speeches hailed slain Fatah leaders from the old days, when Fatah was purely a militant group attacking the Israelis, before it became a governing body and tried to make the shift to negotiating peace agreements. Critics said this new party might get along well with Hamas, but it was unlikely to gain support of many Palestinians.

Analyst Ayman Shaheen at Al-Azhar University says Palestinians have been thrust into a new political era, one in which the cherished goal of Palestinian unity is a thing of the past.

Professor AYMAN SHAHEEN (Political Analyst, Al Azhar University): The difference is very deep, and I can say it is impossible to overcome in the coming days or coming weeks, at least. The split met among Fatah and Hamas, the split among the people, and this is the dangerous thing.

KENYON: The mass of Palestinians crowded at the Erez Crossing to Israel was reduced significantly yesterday. In a statement, the Israeli army said nine humanitarian cases were allowed into Israel along with more than 150 foreign nationals who wanted to leave. Separately, Israel evacuated dozens of Palestinians to Egypt. The statement also said quantities of food, medical supplies, gasoline and oil crossed into Gaza.

But violence also flared again yesterday with Israeli forces entering southern Gaza and killing at least four Palestinian militants, and Palestinian rockets exploding outside the Israeli town of Sderot. Zahar, the Hamas official, said no one in Gaza is interested in protecting the Israeli border. He also suggested that if Fatah continues to attack Hamas facilities in the West Bank, it might feel the sting of Hamas violence there as well.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Gaza.

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