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Pressure mounts on Abbas to quit

February 28, 2014 at 11:32 am

A senior member of Hamas has demanded that the Palestinian president resign for supporting the postponement of a UN vote which could have led to the prosecution of Israel for war crimes during its campaign in Gaza.

Mahmoud al-Zahar told Al Jazeera that Mahmoud Abbas was guilty of “a very big crime against the Palestinian people” over the Palestinian Authority’s support to defer endorsing the report, which was highly critical of Israel’s conduct during the Gaza war.

“He is encouraging the Israeli military leaders to attack Gaza, to kill Hamas, and to kill people because they voted for Hamas; to postpone a very important report concerning the Israelis committing crimes against human beings,” al-Zahar said on Monday.

West Bank protestAbbas

Hundreds of people in the West Bank city of Ramallah protested against the Palestinian Authority’s decision to support a delay to a
UN vote on whether to endorse the findings of the report,
which was authored by Richard Goldstone, a former South African judge.

Protesters gathered on Monday waving placards saying the delay “insults the blood of the martyrs and wounds our people”.

“[The decision] was a knife in the backs and in the hearts of all the martyrs,” Jamal al-Jumaa, a protester, said.

Protests were also held in Jerusalem, where pro-Palestinian activists demanded an apology from Abbas.

“If the government had anything to do with the decision we want it to resign,” Muhammad Jadallah, the head of the Coalition for Jerusalem, said.

Thirty-two Palestinian groups in Europe also called on Abbas to immediately step down from office.

In a statement, the groups said “the step to delay the endorsement was not less dangerous than the atrocities committed by the Israeli occupation in Gaza”.

Abbas defence

The adoption of the report by the 49-member UN Human Rights Council was seen as a key step towards eventually bringing war crimes charges against Israeli leaders and Palestinian fighters at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The 575-page report blamed both the Israeli military and the Palestinian fighters for war crimes during Israel’s offensive on the Gaza Strip between December and January, but was more critical of Israeli troops for “targeting and terrorising civilians”.

But the council on Friday deferred endorsement of the report until March, as requested by sponsors of the resolution, acting on behalf of the Palestinians.

Critics have alleged that Abbas bowed to US pressure on the resolution, but the Palestinian president on Sunday dismissed the criticism.

“The issue of postponing the vote didn’t come from us – we are not members of this international organisation [UN Human Rights Council],” he said.

“I believe all the Arab brothers are members of the organisation and they all know very well that the postponement of the vote happened with their knowledge and approval.”

Mounting anger

Al Jazeera’s Nour Odeh, reporting from the West Bank, said human rights organisations and Palestinian political factions – including the president’s own Fatah movement – had been escalating their expressions of anger and condemnation about their leadership’s decision to support the withdrawal.

And many questions were being asked about how the crisis would affect ongoing efforts to reach national reconciliation.

Hamas, which has de facto control of Gaza and is the main political rival to Abbas’s Fatah faction, has appeared to rule out reconciliation under the present circumstances.

Egypt has invited Hamas and Fatah to Cairo for negotiations on October 26 towards the formation of a national unity government, but al-Zahar said that the PA’s position on the Goldstone report made such a meeting futile.

“I personally would prefer to postpone it because we cannot sit down with this criminal who made such mistakes to the degree of killing our people,” he said.

There has been strong dissension within Fatah over the delay as well, with an unnamed official saying “the consent to defer the vote had cost us dear. We’ll need years to fix this mistake”.

Salam Fayyad, Abbas’s prime minister, has demanded the report’s recommendations be implemented in full, while Ali Jarbawi, the Palestinian planning minister, expressed his “surprise” over the consent to postpone the vote.

Abbas has also drawn criticism from Syria, which postponed his planned visit to Damascus in a gesture of protest.

During the three-week Gaza war, more than 1,400 Palestinians – one-third of them women and children – were killed while Israel lost 10 soldiers and three civilians.

“He should resign and he should seek a fair trial. He is not representing any of the Palestinian people.”

Source: Al-Jazeera