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Thousands flock against peace meet

Thousands of Hamas supporters flocked to central Gaza City on Tuesday for a rally to reject a key Middle East peace conference in the United States.

world Updated: Nov 27, 2007 17:31 IST

Thousands of Hamas supporters flocked to central Gaza City on Tuesday for a rally to reject a key Middle East peace conference in the United States, as the Islamists slammed Arab participation.

Waving the green flags of Hamas, demonstrators poured into a central square from all over the impoverished and overcrowded territory that the Islamists have ruled since wresting control in mid-June after a week of deadly violence.

Mosque loudspeakers urged people to join the demonstration, the latest protest called by the Islamists who have been further isolated by the US meeting opening later Tuesday in the US city of Annapolis.

Blacklisted by both the European Union and the United States as a terror group and not invited to the US meeting, Hamas said on Monday that it would not be bound by any decisions taken there.

Speaking ahead of the Gaza demonstration, the premier of the dismissed Hamas government Ismail Haniya reiterated that stance, saying that "we will reject the decisions of Annapolis if they touch upon our rights.

"Any concessions on any Palestinian rights are unacceptable and the Palestinian people will not implement any decisions if they touch on our rights," he added.

Haniya also slammed the participation of Arab countries -- including powerhouse Saudi Arabia -- in the US peace meeting despite the Islamists appealing for a boycott.

"We are against any attempts for either direct or indirect normalisation (with Israel) and are against the presence, for the first time, of an Arab delegation by the side of a Zionist delegation at the Annapolis conference," he said.

"Such a presence is a step back on the historical position of opposition (to Israel) by these countries," Haniya said.

The Islamists refuse to recognise Israel and to renounce violence, and have warned the Palestinian leadership against making any concessions on the most intractable issues of the conflict such as the right of return for refugees and the status of Jerusalem.

Having swept aside president Mahmud Abbas's long-dominant Fatah party in January 2006 parliamentary polls, Hamas argues that without its accord the president lacks the mandate to negotiate on behalf of all Palestinians.

Increasingly isolated by Israel and the West after it seized control of Gaza from pro-Abbas forces, Hamas suffered a further blow last week when Arab nations voted to attend the US meeting.

The Hamas seizure of power in Gaza split the Palestinians in two, with the Islamists ruling the smaller part of the Palestinians' promised future state and Abbas retaining control in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Vociferous Hamas opposition to the Annapolis meeting underscores the Palestinian divide looming over international efforts to jumpstart the moribund Middle Peace peace process and the difficulties faced by the secular Abbas as he aims to embark on final status talks with Israel.

First Published: Nov 27, 2007 17:29 IST