Abbas Ready to Visit Gaza for 'Unity'

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JERUSALEM, Israel - Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas says he's ready to "travel to Gaza tomorrow to end [the] rivalry" with Hamas.

Abbas said he was willing to delay forming a new government until Hamas could participate.  More than a month ago, Abbas instructed Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to dissolve the cabinet and begin forming a new ruling coalition.

"I am ready to delay the formation of the new government to give Hamas a chance to join," Abbas said at a two-day meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Central Committee.  Hamas members hold 70 percent, Fatah 30 percent, of the Palestinian Authority's 130-member legislative body.  The Hamas charter calls for the destruction of Israel.

Abbas' latest announcement came a day after Hamas security forces broke up rallies by thousands of Arab youths in the Gaza Strip calling for reconciliation between the two rival factions.  On the second day of demonstrations, Hamas police reportedly arrested one protester and two Palestinian cameramen in a small demonstration in front of a U.N. school.

Responding to the Fatah-Hamas unity push, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked CNN's Piers Morgan in an interview aired Thursday evening how the P.A. can be for "peace with Israel and peace with Hamas, which calls for our destruction."

"Can you imagine a peace deal with al-Qaeda?" he asked his interviewer. "Of course not," Netanyahu said.

Meanwhile, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee late last week that Hamas is much stronger in Judea and Samaria - the West Bank - than most assume.

The general consensus is that the Palestinian Liberation Organization's Fatah faction controls the West Bank, while Hamas controls the Gaza Strip.  Abbas has not visited Gaza since Hamas took control in June 2007 after overthrowing P.A. security forces there in a bloody military coup.

"Hamas does not currently desire to take hold of power there," Lieberman said. "They are waiting for the day after Abbas and Fayyad extract the maximum they are able to get out of the international community and then they will seize power," he said.

Lieberman believes the Palestinians "prefer the option of acting in the international arena to negotiations with Israel."

"They think they can gain a lot more that way," he said.

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