Bush To Blame For Hamas Popularity, Catholic Cleric Says

Julie Stahl | Jerusalem Bureau Chief | Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Bush To Blame For Hamas Popularity, Catholic Cleric Says

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - The top Roman Catholic clergyman in Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority areas blamed the policies of President Bush for an increase in the popularity among Palestinians of the terrorist group Hamas.

Meanwhile, Israel said on Wednesday that it is not obliged to allow Palestinians to hold parliamentary elections in Jerusalem in January following threats by the Palestinian Authority to cancel the elections.

Hamas won stunning victories in municipal elections in the West Bank last week, raising expectations that the militant group would win big in parliamentary elections.

Hamas' participation in the upcoming January 25 parliamentary elections has upset Israeli officials, who say they will not help the P.A. logistically with their elections as long as Hamas is involved.

Hamas has claimed responsibility for many deadly suicide bombing attacks over the last few years that have left hundreds of Israelis dead and wounded. The group also calls for the destruction of the State of Israel.

At a press conference in Jerusalem's Old City on Wednesday, Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah delivered his annual Christmas message and told reporters that the policies of President Bush were to blame for the militant group's increasing popularity.

"Hamas is getting more and more power thanks to the Bush administration's interventions," said Sabbah.

Washington said Hamas participation was an internal Palestinian affair, but the House of Representatives last week passed a resolution calling for the P.A. to ban Hamas participation unless the group renounces violence. The resolution threatened to cut U.S. funding to the P.A. if Hamas wins in parliament.

Sabbah, who is Palestinian, delivers similar messages every year, putting the onus on Israel to make peace with the Palestinians.

This year, Sabbah said, P.A. Chairman Mahmoud Abbas had decided against violence and succeeded to calm down Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Israel was therefore responsible for continuing violence, because it had continued to arrest Palestinians and take other measures against them.

Sabbah refused to comment on the suicide bomb attack at a mall in the Israeli seaside city of Netanya several weeks ago.

In response, Sharon's spokesman Dr. Ra'anan Gissin said that the reason there is less violence is because of Israeli arrests of Palestinian terrorists.

Without the arrests and other counter-terrorism measures, Gissin said, there would be attacks every day. There are 10 ongoing alerts for possible suicide bombings at present, he said.

Hamas has not decreased its terror activity, said Gissin. It is using other groups as a "front" for its terror activity until after Palestinian elections, he said.

Election row

Abbas is under increasing and opposing pressure from within his Fatah faction to postpone the upcoming elections for fear of Hamas gains and from the international community to hold the elections on time in a democratic manner.

Palestinian Information Minister Nabil Shaath said earlier that there would be no elections if the Palestinians could not vote in Jerusalem. If the international community would not pressure Israel to reconsider, he said, there would be no elections.

Jerusalem is one of the thorniest issues dividing Israel and the Palestinians.

Israel reunited Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day war and later annexed the eastern part of the city where some 200,000 Palestinians live. Most foreign governments never recognized Israeli sovereignty over the city.

Israel considers the city its eternal, indivisible capital. The Palestinians hope to make East Jerusalem the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Israel said on Wednesday that it was not obligated to allow Palestinians to vote in Jerusalem as it had in the past.

"Israel is not required to provide access or conduct [elections] in East Jerusalem," said Gissin. "It's against the law. It's [Israel's] sovereign capital."

According to signed agreements, the P.A. is not allowed to engage in political activity in Jerusalem, said Gissin, although there were years during the 1990s when Israel turned a blind eye to such activity.

In general elections in 1996 and presidential elections in 2005 Israel allowed Palestinians to cast their ballots at post offices in East Jerusalem or travel to polling stations in nearby West Bank towns.

But Gissin said those two cases were exceptions in "very specific circumstances." Allowing the Palestinians to vote there now would "enable a terrorist organization to scuttle the whole political process," he said.

"The organization wants to use the democratic political process to destroy the State of Israel," said Gissin.

Reserve Brig.-Gen. Shalom Harari said earlier that the P.A. had already been looking for a way to postpone the elections and the P.A. might use the issue of the Jerusalem polls to delay the vote and throw the blame on Israel.

Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman met with Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz on Wednesday and said that the P.A. elections should go ahead as planned. Suleiman was instrumental in negotiating a deal between the P.A. and militant groups for a period of calm to last until the January elections.

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