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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

PLO official calls on colleagues to reconsider recognition of Israel

It comes as Palestine Liberation Organisation leaders begin a two-day meeting in Ramallah to discuss the US's recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital

Hamas' top leader Sheikh Ismaeil Haneiya (C) attends a protest in Gaza City against US decision to recognize the city of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Mohammed Saber / EPA
Hamas' top leader Sheikh Ismaeil Haneiya (C) attends a protest in Gaza City against US decision to recognize the city of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Mohammed Saber / EPA

A senior PLO official on Sunday called on his colleagues to reconsider their recognition of Israel, as senior Palestinian officials met to discuss US president Donald Trump's move to recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.

Speaking at the opening session of a two-day meeting of Palestine Liberation Organisation leaders in Ramallah, Salim Zanoun also called for an overall strategy for responding to Mr Trump's controversial announcement last month, the Palestinian Wafa news agency reported.

Mr Zanoun is president of the Palestinian Central Council, a high-ranking arm of the PLO.

It came a day after Hamas turned down an invitation to attend the meeting in what was a further setback to failing reconciliation efforts between leading Palestinian factions.

"We have taken the decision not to participate in the meeting of the (Palestinian) Central Council in Ramallah," said Hamas, though stressed its "commitment to the unity of our people".

"The conditions under which the committee will be held will not enable it to carry out a comprehensive and responsible political review, and will prevent decisions that reach the level of our aspirations."

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Hamas and Islamic Jihad, another Palestinian Islamist movement, were invited to attend the meeting despite not being part of the PLO, the internationally recognised representatives of the Palestinian people. Islamic Jihad has also announced it will not take part.

Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, had been pushing for the meeting to be held outside the Palestinian territories but Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas decided instead to host it in Ramallah, the base of his government in the West Bank.

Hamas said this left them subject to the "pressures" of Israel, which occupies the West Bank and regularly arrests Hamas officials.

Mr Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital in December last year infuriated Palestinian leaders, who see at least the east of the city as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

The Trump administration has also not publicly committed to the idea of an independent Palestinian state, and the PLO office in Washington was briefly threatened with closure.

Hamas and Mr Abbas' Fatah party, which dominates the PLO, signed a reconciliation agreement in October last year that was meant to see the Islamists hand over control of Gaza by the end of the year.

The talks have, however, broken down, with disputes over the fate of tens of thousands of Hamas civil servants and the future of Hamas's vast armed wing.

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Also on Sunday, the Israeli military said it had destroyed a tunnel built by Hamas that stretched from the Gaza Strip, though Israel and into Egypt.

Military spokesman Lt Col Jonathan Conricus said the 1.5-kilometre-long tunnel ran underneath the Kerem Shalom border crossing, Gaza's main point of entry for humanitarian aid, and under strategic gas and fuel pipelines. He said Israeli jets struck part of the tunnel while a new set of sophisticated "tools" destroyed the rest.

According to Lt Col Conricus, Israeli forces had been monitoring the tunnel's construction for some time and he claimed an imminent attack on Israelis was possible.

Israel has placed a high priority on halting the tunnel threat since Hamas infiltrated Israel during the 2014 war. This marks the third such tunnel that Israel has destroyed over the past two months.

* With reporting by Agence France-Presse