Palestinian leader offers to visit Gaza

Seeks to form a new government

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RAMALLAH, West Bank | The Palestinian Authority president offered Wednesday to form a new government with his bitter rivals in Hamas in an attempt to satisfy Palestinians demanding reconciliation between the Western-backed leader and the Islamic militant group.

President Mahmoud Abbas also offered to go to the Gaza Strip, which he has not visited since Hamas overran his forces in 2007 and left the Palestinian Authority in control of the West Bank.

The rift is a major obstacle to the Palestinian objective of establishing an independent state incorporating both territories.

Both sides are under heavy pressure to resolve their differences from tens of thousands of Palestinians who have been holding demonstrations inspired by the pro-democracy uprisings across the Middle East.

Any effort to mend the Palestinian governments’ four-year split is particularly perilous for Mr. Abbas, who risks alienating the U.S. and Europe, which consider Hamas a terrorist group and give Mr. Abbas‘ administration hundreds of millions of dollars in aid a year.

His outreach appears to reflect his loss of faith in the U.S.-backed peace process with Israel.

Hamas refuses to recognize Israel and won’t renounce violence against the Jewish state or accept previous accords between Israel and the Palestinians. There is no sign it would be willing to do any of those things now.

“I declare that I am ready to go to Gaza tomorrow so as to end the split and form a new government,” Mr. Abbas said in a speech before senior members of his Fatah Party.

Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh had asked Mr. Abbas to visit as protesters gathered Tuesday in the de facto West Bank capital of Ramallah and the metropolis of Gaza City, waving the green, black, white and red Palestinian flag and chanting: “The people want an end to the division!”

Hamas loyalists initially joined - and sought to take over - the Gaza City demonstration. When those efforts failed, Hamas police beat up demonstrators with batons, chased out and punched reporters and seized activists’ mobile phones.

Fatah loyalists beat each other up on the sidelines of the Ramallah protest, apparently during an argument over whether to join the demonstrators or not.

On Wednesday, Hamas swiftly welcomed Mr. Abbas‘ offer, and spokesman Taher Nunu said the militants were “considering the necessary arrangements for this visit.”

It was far from clear that the rhetoric would lead to any real reconciliation, however.

Mr. Abbas has promised to visit Gaza in the past as part of previous peacemaking attempts thwarted partly by deep reluctance on both sides to give up virtual one-party rule of the two territories.

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