Hamas leader criticizes Bush's Middle East visit

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Friday, January 11, 2008

One of the leaders of the Islamist Hamas movement on Friday said President Bush's visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories would only end up hurting Palestinians.

Hamas militants and their supporters in the Gaza Strip staged noisy demonstrations over the past few days as President Bush held talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials, trying to "nudge" them forward towards a peace deal by the end of his presidency.

Hamas rejects any such peace deal and refuses to recognize Israel. The group is considered a terrorist organization by the international community.

Speaking after Friday prayers in Gaza City, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said President Bush's visit was meant to reinforce Palestinian divisions.

George Bush in the Middle East today.

It was made clear that Haniyeh did not support Bush's visit he said "Bush gave Israel all the required pledges to solidify its occupation and to wipe out basic Palestinian rights and sacred issues, while he gave the Palestinians more illusions and slogans, and loose words that only express the deception which has characterized this visit."

Haniyeh says Mr. Bush's visit is sowing the seeds for an internal Palestinian war, and he called U.S. policy in the region a failure.

Hamas seized power in Gaza in a violent takeover last June, ousting Fatah forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Since then the Palestinian territories have been divided, with Hamas in control of Gaza and Fatah in control in the West Bank. President Abbas has appointed a caretaker government in the West Bank that has received widespread recognition, and he resumed peace negotiations with Israel.

One of Mr. Abbas' senior negotiators in talks with the Israelis is Saeb Erekat. He says on balance Palestinians who support the peace process welcomed Mr. Bush's visit, but now it is up to Israelis and Palestinians to advance the process.

"There are things he said we agree with, there are things he said we disagree with. Now, as far as decisions required, for the issues of Jerusalem, borders, settlements, refugees, water, security and prisoners, these decisions must be done and made by Palestinians and Israelis, nobody else," said Erekat.

During his visit to the area, President Bush called on Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian lands but he also said one of the biggest obstacles to peace is in Gaza, and that Palestinians must be able to show Israel they can control security in their areas.