Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has called for the ouster of the Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip, in his strongest statements against the Islamic movement since it seized control of the area in mid-June.
"We have to bring down this bunch of people who took over the Gaza Strip by force," he said on Thursday in a radio address marking the 19th anniversary of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's declaration of independence in Algiers.
Abbas' broadside against Hamas comes three days after its police opened fire on a Gaza Strip rally held to mark three years since the death of Arafat.
Eights supporters of Abbas' Fatah movement were killed, including seven who were shot dead.
The rally, attended by an estimated 300,000 people, was the largest show of support for Fatah since Hamas gunmen in the strip routed the movement during five days of savage fighting in June.
"I know the pain in all your hearts because of the criminal acts committed by the outlawed gangs that belong to Hamas in the Gaza Strip," Abbas said, addressing Gazans. "I say to you, be patient, dawn will come soon."
The arrest by Hamas of "hundreds of Fatah and PLO activists," he said was proof of the movement's "confusion and isolation."
Later, in a televised speech from Gaza, Hamas leader Ismail Haniya said he instructed the Hamas police to release most of the more than 400 Fatah supporters detained, "except those who were involved in riots and disturbances".
Haniya, who called for Abbas' forces in the West Bank to release Hamas activists they detained, also said an inquiry panel would investigate the circumstances of Monday's events.
Abbas responded to the Gaza takeover by dismissing the Hamas-led unity government of Haniya and appointing a new administration, headed by internationally respected economist Salam Fayyad, in its place.
Although the Fayyad government has never received parliamentary ratification and rules only in the West Bank, its formation gave a new incentive to the long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, leading, in turn, to US President George W Bush to call for an international meeting on the issue.
The meeting, which has been slammed by Hamas, including Haniya in his televised address, is slated to be held in Annapolis, Maryland towards the end of the month.
In his speech on Thursday, Abbas urged Israelis to support peace moves, saying that continued occupation would not bring them security.
"I want on this day, to address the people of Israel and their government and tell them that we are determined to achieve a genuine peace for the sake of our future generations," he said.
He also urged Israel to freeze settlement construction in the West Bank, lift restrictions on movement and release Palestinian militants jailed in Israeli prisons.
"I want to assure you on this glorious day of independence that we are working very hard to make the upcoming peace conference a serious and crucial launching point toward a just solution that can guarantee the rights of all our people," Abbas said.
The Palestinian leader added that he would travel to Saudi Arabia on Friday for talks with King Abdullah on the Annapolis parley.
Asked later, after a meeting with visiting Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko in Ramallah, about Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's demand that Palestinians recognise Israel as a Jewish state, Abbas did not immediately reject the notion, as other Palestinian spokesmen have, but sounded carefully non-committal.
"Historical Palestine will be two states - Israel and Palestine," he said. "We are not in the process of discussing the structure of this state or that."