ABU DHABI // Capping a symbolic trip to the Palestinian Territories, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Foreign Minister, attended midnight mass at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, on Christmas Eve. Earlier in the day, Sheikh Abdullah reiterated the UAE's support for the Arab Peace Initiative, and gave his strong backing to Mr Abbas's Palestinian Authority, which is struggling to control Hamas militants who continue to fire rockets into Israel and have started to openly question the legitimacy of his presidency. The Foreign Minister urged Mr Abbas to continue to lead the Palestinian people after his term expires on Jan 9. The UAE's support of Mr Abbas is in line with the view of many Arab nations that a power vacuum in the occupied territories needs to be avoided to prevent further intra-Palestinian violence. The Emirates also believes the fresh impetus to the Middle East peace process that is likely to take place with the accession of the US president-elect, Barack Obama, will be the best opportunity in years to move forward the Arab initiative launched in 2002. "We feel that it is in the interest of the Palestinian people and of the region at large that [Mr Abbas] should continue to lead his people, regardless of what effect this laborious task might have to his health and efforts," Sheikh Abdullah said at a press conference with the Palestinian leader on Wednesday afternoon, according to the state news agency WAM. After their talks, which coincided with Christmas celebrations in the West Bank city famed as the birthplace of Jesus, Sheikh Abdullah said the UAE hoped to persuade the Obama administration to adopt the Arab plan that was relaunched at an Arab summit in Riyadh last year. The plan calls for a resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict in return for Israel's withdrawal from the Arab lands that it occupied in the 1967 Six Day War, including east Jerusalem. Israel initially expressed support for the plan, but its leaders have since voiced deep reservations over pulling out of east Jerusalem and resettling Palestinian refugees in Israel. "The initiative is considered the solution to the region's problems, to make our region a safe and stable place, enjoying development and prosperity," Sheikh Abdullah said. "We should bear in mind that the initiative has been driven not only by Arab countries, but also by the Islamic countries who unanimously adopted it during their conference in Tehran," he said, referring to a meeting of Islamic nations in the Iranian capital last month, an apparent suggestion that even Iran would support the effort. He noted that the 57 countries in the Organisation of the Islamic Conference said at the Tehran summit that they would be willing to normalise relations with Israel if the Jewish state adopts the initiative. Both Mr Obama and Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, are believed to be favourably disposed to its general outlines, and Sheikh Abdullah suggested that after the Israeli elections would be an ideal time to move the plan forward. Later on Wednesday evening, Sheikh Abdullah and his delegation joined Mr Abbas and Salam Fayad, the Palestinian prime minister, for mass at the Church of the Nativity before dining together, WAM said. After the meal, Sheikh Abdullah again made clear the country's support of Mr Abbas: "The UAE Government and people are all with the Palestinian people. We support you and Abu Mazen. I feel happy to be here in Palestine with our people to celebrate Christmas," referring to the Palestinian leader by his Arab nickname. Mr Abbas's Fatah movement is struggling with Hamas, the Islamist group which seized control of Gaza in June 2007 and won national elections in Jan 2006. An Egyptian-brokered truce between Hamas and Israel in Gaza expired on Dec 19. Since then, Israel has attacked presumed Hamas militants, while armed groups have fired rockets on Israeli cities bordering Gaza.Arab and western backing of Mr Abbas has allowed him in recent months to consolidate his authority in the West Bank, which is relatively quiet. The deployment of newly trained Palestinian policemen in Jenin and Hebron and more development projects have created stability that contrasts with the dire living conditions in Gaza, which remains under Israeli siege. Rami Khouri, a Palestinian-Jordanian journalist and analyst, applauded Sheikh Abdullah's visit but warned of the pitfalls of the appearance of taking sides in internal Palestinian disputes. "Both Hamas and Fatah have popular legitimacy and both won elections, but both have also acted in immature ways," Mr Khouri said. firstname.lastname@example.org
- American curriculum in the UAE will not help getting into US universities
- Athletes warming up ahead of Abu Dhabi International Triathlon
- Abu Dhabi Award winners tell of their pride over honours
- Abu Dhabi airport closes south runway for improvements
- High-end accessories on offer at Abu Dhabi show
- Al Ain takes measures to increase road safety
- Most Viewed
- Most Commented
- Drunk British tourist ran about naked in Palm Jumeirah hotel
- An Abu Dhabi family happy to live in the past
- Heartache as Dubai family breaks news to children of couple on missing Malaysia Airlines jet
- Father discovered flatmate’s sexual assault on daughter from her phone call to friend
- In pictures: Leaders attend UAE and Egypt’s joint military exercise Zayed 1
- Most Viewed
- Most Commented
- Federal Traffic Council approves proposal to lower UAE driving age
- Men ripped off woman’s clothes in bathroom, Abu Dhabi court hears
- Ties no longer mandatory for Dubai cabbies amid safety concerns
- Live blog: With the emergency workers at Rashid Hospital Trauma Centre
- Dubai launches mobile app to faciliate parking and payment
In pictures: Leaders attend UAE and Egypt’s joint military exercise Zayed 1
Leaders from the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt attend a joint military exercise, “Zayed 1” between the UAE and Egyptian armed forces in the Western Region.
In pictures: Best business images of the week to March 12
In pictures: This week's list of business images includes refugee carpet makers in Peshawar; coal energy in Germany and protests at IBM's factory in China.
Porsche, McLaren, and LaFerrari hybrids are best
The Porsche 918 Spyder, McLaren P1 and the LaFerrari set the pace eco-style.
Video: Nepal aim to prove they belong at T20 World Cup
Nepal's cricketers will make their debut at a global event when they play at the World Twenty20 in Bangladesh this month. Produced by Paul Radley
In pictures: 10 things not to miss at Design Days Dubai
Top ten things not to miss at Design Days Dubai.
Best photography from around the world today
The National View's photo editors pick the best images of the day from around the world.