A senior aide to Mahmoud Abbas said Saturday that the Palestinian Authority chairman will use some of the $100 million in tax rebates recently transferred by Israel to pay overdue salaries of the Palestinian security forces.

The announcement came as fighting between the Abbas-allied security forces and Hamas gunmen flared in the Gaza Strip over the weekend, leaving 17 people dead.

In all, Abbas is spending $152 million for salaries of the security forces and other items, such as debt payment and welfare services, his aide, Rafiq Husseini, told a news conference.

In addition to the Israeli tax rebates – money that was frozen after Hamas came to power last year – Abbas has received $30 million from the United Arab Emirates and $22 million from Qatar, Husseini said.

Since winning parliament elections a year ago, the Islamic militant Hamas has had trouble paying 165,000 civil servants, including 80,000 members of the security forces, because of an international aid boycott.

The international community has rerouted some of the aid to Abbas.

Husseini said the president’s office disbursed $285 million in 2006, but that it was not enough to cover salaries or maintain vital services.

Husseini reiterated that Abbas prefers the establishment of a new government acceptable to the West, a coalition of Hamas and his Fatah movement. However, the latest coalition talks were suspended because of the Gaza fighting.

If no agreement is reached, Husseini said, the president will go for early elections.

Spain pledges 7 million euros in emergency aid for Palestinians

Spain pledged its support Friday for the efforts of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to form a national unity government in his country.

After a meeting with Abbas, Spain’s Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero announced 7 million euros of emergency aid for the Palestinian authority. The government in Madrid would also continue to push all diplomatic efforts to open up the stalemated peace process this year, officials said.

Zapatero and Abbas did not meet with the press. Rather, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos and Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat made the announcement and called for an end to all violence.

They said common efforts of all those involved must produce a political compromise.

However, unity talks were suspended late Friday in the wake of ongoing fighting.

Earlier, Abbas said on it should take no more than three weeks to reach an agreement with Hamas on forming a national unity government.

Abbas repeated his threat to call for parliamentary and presidential elections if talks fail, but he did not say three weeks was a deadline for requesting a new ballot.

“We are at a junction now, either yes or no. I would tell you, this doesn’t need more than two weeks, maximum three weeks,” Abbas told a news conference at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Palestinian factions resumed talks this week on forming a new coalition with the aim of ending a Western aid embargo on the Hamas administration. Sanctions are designed to force Hamas to recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept past peace deals.

On Friday, as violence escalated between Fatah and Hamas in Gaza, the clashes forced the postponement of unity government talks originally scheduled to resume Friday.

“The entire dialogue could explode,” Fatah spokesman Tawfiq Abu Khoussa said, blaming Hamas for the tension. “How can dialogue go on when there is a bomb underneath the table?” The talks were pushed back to Sunday.

Similar talks broke down last year between Abbas’s Fatah and Hamas, which won elections a year ago.

“If we fail to achieve a national unity government that allows us to lift the siege, I will call for presidential elections,” Abbas said.

Abbas also said he expects to hold talks with the United States and Israel within a month on the framework for establishing a Palestinian state.

“I don’t have a specific date. Maybe it needs a month, within a month,” Abbas said.

Any agreement reached on the final borders for a Palestinian state, which Abbas said must recognize the pre-1967 borders of Israel, would be sent to a referendum of the Palestinian people, he said.

Indonesia eyes Hamas meeting to end infighting

Indonesia wants to hold a special meeting with Hamas this year, a Jakarta official said on Friday, aimed at helping end internal rifts between the Palestinian ruling group and other factions.

Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, wants Palestinian factions to end their infighting and form a united government that could open chances for the establishment of a Palestinian state that could co-exist with Israel.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda would use a meeting with Hamas leader Khaled Meshal in Damascus in early February to discuss convening an Indonesia-Hamas conference in Jakarta, Indonesian foreign affairs spokesman Kristiarto Legowo told a news briefing.

“The minister has said the timeframe was within three months. We need to have agreement with the involved parties in this matter first,” said Legowo.

Asked whether anyone from Fatah, the rival group to Hamas, would be invited to the Jakarta conference, Legowo said: “We will only convene with Hamas first.”

Last May, the Hamas government’s foreign minister Mahmoud al-Zahar visited Indonesia and called on Jakarta to take a role in the troubled Middle East peace process.

Legowo said the Indonesian foreign minister planned to talk to Meshal about the meeting. “They will brainstorm what methods are best to realize our plan.”

Indonesia is legally secular and its predominantly Islamic population is largely moderate, but many Indonesian Muslims are passionately pro-Palestinian and Jakarta has no formal ties with Israel.

Indonesia supports the Israeli-Palestinian “roadmap” peace accord sponsored by the so-called “Quartet” of the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations.

Source: www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/818253.html

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