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Sat 31 Jan 2009 09:46 PM

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Abbas rejects Hamas leadership call

Hamas heaps more pressure on Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas by calling for PLO leadership change.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas is leading a chorus of opposition to calls by rival Hamas supremo Khaled Meshaal for a new leadership to replace the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

The Damascus-based Meshaal this week said that the PLO - which has long been internationally recognised as the sole representative of the Palestinian people - had become obsolete.

Meshaal's remarks threw the spotlight again on the protracted and sometimes vicious Hamas-Fatah feud which has prevailed since the Islamists seized the Gaza Strip in June 2007 after deadly street battles with Abbas loyalists.

The PLO, which was founded in 1964, includes Abbas's secular Fatah party and several other Palestinian factions but not the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas)

"The Palestine Liberation Organisation in its current form does not represent anymore a point of reference for the Palestinians," Meshaal said on Wednesday in the Qatari capital Doha.

"It has become a centre of division for the Palestinian household."

Meshaal said Hamas and other radical factions opposed to the policies of the Western-backed Abbas would set up "a new, national authority" representing all Palestinians groups.

Abbas, who is also president of the Palestinian Authority and heads the negotiations with Israel, accused Meshaal of wanting to destroy the PLO.

"Meshaal's statements regarding the establishment of a new authority to replace the Palestine Liberation Organisation is an exercise in time-wasting," Abbas said on Friday.

"While he talks about establishing an organisation, he really wants to destroy what has been the voice (of the Palestinian people) for 44 years."

The PLO "is recognised by Arabs, Muslims, and... 120 countries," Abbas said.

"If he wants to destroy this edifice he will not succeed, because no one from among our people or any other will side with him."

The PLO also released a defiant statement on Friday, saying it would not be toppled.

"The Palestinian people... will resist and bring down this conspiracy along with anyone who plans it or pursues it under any justification," it said.

The Palestinians have been divided since Hamas took over Gaza, with Abbas's rule confined to the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Tensions have boiled over in the wake of Israel's massive 22-day air and ground offensive on Gaza, which it said was aimed at halting rocket attacks from the blockaded territory.

Attempts by Egypt to hold reconciliation talks between the two Palestinian rivals collapsed in November after Hamas accused Fatah of arresting its members in the West Bank.

Abbas is due in Cairo on Sunday to discuss efforts to shore up the January 18 ceasefires that ended the Gaza war, and Hamas officials are also due in the Egyptian capital.

Meshaal's call has also been dismissed by other Palestinian figures, including former Hamas spokesman Ghazi Hamad and Khaled al-Batsh, a member of the militant Islamic Jihad group, which is not part of the PLO.

"Personally I do not accept more divisions... we must find a language of unity," Hamad, a relative moderate, told Al-Jazeera television on Saturday.

"The problem is not the PLO. The problem is one of security institutions, the Palestinian political system and other aspects of our daily lives," he said, warning that the divisions could deal a "fatal blow" to efforts to set up an independent Palestinian state.

Batsh said he was not in favour of an alternative Palestinian umbrella organisation, calling instead for reform of the PLO.

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