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Explosions and War of Words Mar Anniversary of Yasser Arafat's Death

After a string of 15 explosions rocked the homes of Fatah leaders throughout the Gaza Strip, Hamas and Mahmoud Abbas hurled accusations at each other.
Photo by Majdi Mohammed/AP

In a speech commemorating the death of famed Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, President Mahmoud Abbas accused the Islamist movement Hamas of trying "to destroy" the newly formed Palestinian national unity government.

Speaking to a crowd of nearly 5,000 outside the Palestinian Authority's government headquarters in Ramallah, Abbas accused Hamas of planning a string of 15 explosions that rocked the homes of Fatah leaders throughout the Gaza Strip on Sunday.


The explosions forced the president's ruling Fatah movement to cancel a commemoration rally planned in Gaza for Arafat, the Fatah founder who died under mysterious circumstances on November 11, 2004 in a hospital in Paris at the age of 75.

"Who committed this crime?" Abbas bellowed, referencing the blasts Sunday. "The leadership of the Hamas movement did, and it is responsible!"

The explosions mark yet another setback to the flimsy unity government established between Fatah and Hamas in June, a reunification aimed at ending seven years of bitter — and often bloody — division between the two nationalist parties.

The deal led to the formation of a national consensus government in Ramallah, but it has yet to take hold in the Gaza Strip, which has been under Hamas control since the two parties split in 2007.

The two parties agreed with Israel in September that Hamas would surrender control of its border crossings to the new unity government in order to accelerate the entry of vital reconstruction materials desperately needed after this summer's war, but the changes have yet to be implemented.

Hamas struck back Tuesday, with spokesman Mushir al-Masri accusing the Palestinian Authority president of being "sectarian and partisan."

"Abbas's speech is a web of lies, insults and disinformation," al-Masri said. "What the Palestinian people need is a courageous president."

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Photos by Dylan Collins

But Abbas went even further in his rebuke of Hamas, chastising the group for the kidnapping and murder of three young Israeli settlers earlier this year, barely a week after the official formation of the unity government. He described the move as a clear attempt to destroy the fledgling union between the two parties.

"These actions delay rebuilding, and delay the moving of 100,000 people back into their homes," Abbas seethed. "The one loser is the people — in the war, in the rebuilding and in everything — while you sit in your homes and your hideouts with no concern except to say 'We're staying put.'"

Tuesday's commemorations come amid renewed tensions in the holy land. Violent clashes between Palestinian youth and Israeli police forces have gripped annexed East Jerusalem for the past four months.

Abbas addressed the tensions, warning Israel that its efforts to change the delicate status-quo of prayer rights in the Al-Aqsa compound — known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount — could potentially drag the region into a "detrimental religious war."

"The Muslim world will not accept Israel's conditions that Jerusalem belongs to them," Abbas said. "Jerusalem is our capital and we won't give up on it. Jerusalem, which was conquered in 1967, is our Jerusalem."

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The Palestinian president reaffirmed his plans to submit a draft resolution to the United Nations Security Council this month, calling for an end to Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories by November 2016.

If the resolution is blocked by a US veto, Abbas warned that the Palestinian Authority would join a host of international organizations, including the International Criminal Court, to pursue war crimes charges against Israel.

"The territories occupied in 1967 are not disputed territories but occupied territories, and Israel is trying to create facts on the ground through settlements," Abbas argued. He added that every settlement built over the Green Line — an area that includes East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Golan Heights — must be removed, "because they exist on occupied Palestinian land."

In a letter written to mark the 10th anniversary of Arafat's death, Marwan Barghouti, a prominent Fatah leader imprisoned by Israel, said that "choosing global and armed resistance," was being "faithful to Arafat's legacy, to his ideas and his principles."

Barghouti also touched on the murky circumstances surrounding Arafat's death, saying his "assassination," was, "an official Israeli-American decision."

Although Israel has repeatedly denied any role in Arafat's death, an examination of his personal effects by Swiss experts two years ago found "abnormal" levels of polonium — an extremely radioactive toxin — fueling the belief that foul play was involved.

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Follow Dylan Collins on Twitter: @collinsdyl