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Abbas offers to visit Gaza after Israeli arms haul

RAMALLAH, West Bank — The Palestinian president on Wednesday offered to go to the Gaza Strip for unity talks with his Hamas rivals, a day after Israel intercepted an arms shipment it said was sent by Iran to the Islamic militant group.

Mahmoud Abbas' gesture to Hamas suggests he has given up on reaching peace with Israel and will instead seek internal reconciliation at the risk of jeopardizing relations with the West. The United States, Israel and the European Union consider Hamas a terror group.

Abbas has not visited Gaza since Hamas expelled his forces in a five-day civil war in 2007. Since then, his Western-backed Palestinian Authority has ruled only the West Bank. Repeated reconciliation efforts since have failed.

Even with the best of intentions, it will be difficult for the sides to overcome their vast differences. Past reconciliation efforts have failed, with neither side eager to relinquish the power it has, and the bad blood from their 2007 violence remains.

After parallel rallies in Gaza and the West Bank urging the rival Palestinian leaderships to reunite, Gaza's Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, invited Abbas to come try to mend ties. With peace talks with Israel at a standstill and pro-democracy uprisings taking place across the Middle East, Abbas complied.

"I declare that I am ready to go to Gaza tomorrow to end the split and form a new government," Abbas said in a speech before senior members of his Fatah Party, referring to "this dark and dishonorable chapter of division."

Abbas' unity plan includes parliamentary and presidential elections within six months. Abbas told his Fatah allies he would not seek re-election in that vote.

Abbas offers to visit Gaza after Israeli arms haul 03/16/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 16, 2011 9:47pm]
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