Gaza City (AFP) Mahmud Abbas warned against any interference in Palestinian affairs after Israel intensified its threats to disrupt January”s parliamentary elections if the radical Hamas movement takes part.
"The Palestinian elections are for the Palestinian people and only the Palestinian people," the Palestinian Authority president told reporters after Israel said Hamas should not be allowed to participate in the ballot as it did not recognise the Jewish state”s right to exist.
Following Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon”s threat to hamper voting in the West Bank, his foreign minister said Israel regarded Hamas”s participation as "inconceivable".
"It is inconceivable that a movement such as Hamas, which has a very good chance of doing well or even winning, can participate in elections while calling for the destruction of the state of Israel," said Silvan Shalom.
Sharon, in New York for the UN General Assembly, has said Israel could leave roadblocks in place in the West Bank, making it difficult for voters to reach polling stations, as well as imposing other obstacles in occupied east Jerusalem.
The premier admitted however that Israel "can no longer influence Hamas”s participation" in elections in its Gaza Strip stronghold following the withdrawal last week of Israeli troops after a 38-year occupation.
Hamas did not stand in the first elections a decade ago over its opposition to the Oslo accords, which are now widely regarded as a dead letter.
However its strong showing in recent municipal elections has persuaded it to stand in what are only the second ever legislative elections and try and end the long domination of the governing Fatah faction.
In an unprecedented show of strength Sunday, several thousand members of Hamas”s military wing, armed with Kalashnikovs and rocket propelled grenade launchers, rallied in a football stadium before marching through Gaza City.
At least 10,000 Hamas supporters then joined the rally as it made its way towards a square in the north of the city where its one-time leader Abdelaziz Rantissi was assassinated by Israel in an air strike last year.
Amid a sea of green Hamas flags, the head of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades in Gaza proclaimed that the movement would not lay down its weapons until Israel had been driven out of all Palestinian land.
"We announce to the whole world that the occupation must not only leave Gaza but all of Palestine," said Raed Saad in a rare public appearance.
Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have united in condemning the attempts by Israel, which sees itself as the only true democracy in the Middle East, to disrupt the elections.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the "election is a Palestinian affair and neither the occupation or any other foreign player has a right to interfere in this election."
The US State Department has said it is up to the Palestinians "to resolve the fundamental contradiction of groups wanting to keep one foot in the political process and one foot in the camp of terror."
Hamas, behind the majority of attacks against Israel during the five-year uprising, is on the crest of a wave following Israel”s pullout from Gaza, with polls showing most Palestinians credit it rather than Fatah for the withdrawal.
The departure of Israeli troops has led to scenes of chaos on the border between southern Gaza and Egypt in the past week, with thousands of people crossing illegally through holes knocked out by smugglers and armed factions.
The security forces stepped up their efforts Sunday to restore order on the border, flooding the area with personnel.
Speaking on a tour of the region Sunday, Abbas said that the border had now been completely sealed.
"The situation on the border is now stable," he said. "The mess that we have had in the last few days is over."
Israeli officials meanwhile announced that no police officer would face charges over the deaths of 13 Arabs who were killed five years ago in protests at the start of the Palestinian uprising.
A police inquiry, which was commissioned by the justice ministry, concluded that there was "insufficient evidence" to justify a prosecution over the shootings in October 2000.
Twelve Israeli Arabs and a Palestinian were killed when police opened fire on demonstrators, barely a month after the beginning of the intifada, leading to riots across the north of the country.