Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called on Israel 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 change its violently anti-Israel ways, and urged Palestinian militants to halt rocket attacks on Israel . 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."
Israel rules out negotiations as long as the Palestinians' new Hamas rulers remain opposed to the Jewish state's existence and refuse to disarm. Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said his government wanted peace with the Palestinians, 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.
In response to Hamas' rise, Israel and much of the West imposed an economic boycott on the Palestinian Authority. Hamas held its own event to mark "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.
Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas defiantly rejected international demands to recognize Israel and renounce violence. "This government said, 'No,' a thousand times, 'No,' to the U.S. administration, which wants to steal our rights and turn us into slaves," Haniyeh told 10,000 people gathered in the southern Gaza town of Rafah . "We are not going to recognize the legitimacy of this occupation."
Haniyeh also said the Palestinians had no intention of giving up their fight against Israel . 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 afterthat trip. Olmert says he would prefer a negotiated accord, but will act unilaterally if Hamas doesn't soften its line soon. His plan to dismantle dozens of isolated Jewish settlements while strengthening settlement blocs falls short of Palestinian demands for all of the West Bank and east Jerusalem territories captured in 1967 along with the recently evacuated Gaza Strip.
About 2,000 Palestinians from rival factions joined a "Naqba" 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 related to economic hardship in Palestinian territories, which has made travel difficult, and to rivalry between Hamas and Abbas' Fatah. Israel celebrated its independence earlier this month, according to the Hebrew calendar.
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." On Monday, Israeli aircraft attacked a pickup truck filled with Islamic Jihad militants near the central Gaza site of frequent rocket attacks against Israel . Three of the militants were wounding, two of them seriously, hospital officials said.
The Israeli army said it was targeting a terror cell on its way to carrying out an attack. 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.
Abbas hopes to circumvent the economic boycott of the Palestinian Authority by persuading foreign governments to channel money through him to relieve a brewing humanitarian crisis. Senior EU officials met in Brussels on Monday to flesh out a plan to create a funding mechanism for aid that would circumvent Hamas, reports the AP.
The troops of the Southern and Western military districts will begin to return from Russia's southern borders to the points of their permanent deployment starting April 23