updated 5/15/2006 8:05:52 AM ET 2006-05-15T12:05:52

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called on Israel on Monday to resume long-stalled peace talks, issuing his appeal on a day Palestinians set aside to mourn Israel’s creation.

Abbas also prodded the Palestinians’ new Hamas government to forgo violence against the Jewish state, and urged Palestinian militants to halt rocket attacks. Violence, he said, encourages Israel to step up its military activity and proceed with unilateral plans to impose a border on the Palestinians.

“I tell our neighbors, the Israelis, that we want to make a just and lasting peace with you, and we want a better future for our children and yours,” Abbas, the moderate head of the Fatah party, said in a speech broadcast on Palestinian radio and television.

“Let’s sit at the negotiating table, away from the dictates and the unilateral policies, and let’s stop the pretext that there’s no Palestinian partner,” he added. “The partner exists, and we extend our hand to you to make peace.”

Opposition from Israel
Israel has ruled out negotiations with Palestinians as long as their Hamas rulers remain opposed to Israel’s existence and refuse to disarm.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said his government wanted peace, but dismissed the notion of bypassing Hamas and negotiating with Abbas.

“No one can ignore the reality following the Palestinian election, substantive political power has moved to Hamas,” Regev said.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert hopes to win international support for his plans to withdraw from much of the West Bank, and will be presenting the program to U.S. officials in Washington next week.

Olmert is expected to meet with Abbas after the Washington trip. Olmert says he would prefer a negotiated accord, but will act unilaterally if Hamas doesn’t soften its line within months.

His plan to dismantle dozens of isolated Jewish settlements while strengthening settlement blocs would involved a significant pullback. But it still falls short of the Palestinian claim to all of the West Bank and east Jerusalem — territories Israel captured in 1967 along with the recently evacuated Gaza Strip.

Olmert believes the pullback is needed to ensure Israel’s status as a democracy with a Jewish majority.

Palestinians mark a milestone
Abbas’ address marked “the Naqba,” or “catastrophe” — the term Palestinians use to describe Israel’s creation on May 15, 1948. Some 700,000 Palestinians fled or were driven from their homes during the war that followed the declaration of the Jewish state.

“Fifty-eight years have passed since the Naqba, a day when hundreds of thousands of our people were uprooted from their homes and their properties, 58 years of pain and tears, of patience and steadfastness and sacrifice that has made our cause an example of injustice and disregard for international resolutions,” Abbas said.

About 2,000 Palestinians from rival factions joined a commemoration outside the parliament building in Gaza City, waving banners, Palestinian flags and models of keys symbolizing lost homes in what is now Israel. Ambulance sirens wailed for one minute to mark the occasion.

“Refugees are the cause of the conflict, and their return is the solution,” a large billboard said.

In previous years, Naqba crowds numbered hundreds of thousands. The low turnout this year appeared to be related to economic hardship in Palestinian territories, which has made travel difficult, and to rivalry between Hamas and Abbas’ Fatah.

Hamas planned its own event later in the day in the southern Gaza town of Rafah.

Israel celebrated its independence earlier this month, according to the Hebrew calendar.

Nudges toward democracy
In his speech, Abbas signaled to Hamas that it, too, must pursue the path of diplomacy. “The PLO, which led our people in its most difficult times, would not have survived until now, or received international recognition, had it not been forthcoming in formulating courageous political initiatives,” he said.

And he called on Palestinian militants in Gaza to halt rocket attacks on Israel that have prompted harsh Israeli reprisals.

“The futile ’missiles’ fired from Gaza should be stopped, as they only justify Israel’s aggression against our people,” he said. He urged Israel “to stop all its military action that led to the killing of innocent people.”

Abbas’ speech was recorded before he left the West Bank to try to drum up political and financial support for the Palestinian Authority in Russia and several European states.

Hamas’ refusal to disarm and recognize Israel’s right to exist has brought crushing financial sanctions upon the Palestinian Authority, and Abbas hopes to persuade foreign governments to channel money through him to relieve a brewing humanitarian crisis.

The West has cut off hundreds of millions of dollars in aid it sends the Palestinians annually, though it recently decided to restore an undetermined amount of humanitarian funding.

Israel stopped transferring hundreds of millions of dollars in tax and customs revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinians after the Hamas-dominated parliament was installed in February, but has also agreed to release an unspecified amount of humanitarian aid.

Senior EU officials met in Brussels on Monday to flesh out a plan by the international Mideast negotiators to create a funding mechanism for the humanitarian aid that would circumvent Hamas.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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