Weather Updates

Palestinian leader: Peace better than settlements

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday appealed to Israelis to choose peace over settlements, saying that opportunities for a peace deal must not be wasted.

Abbas spoke to thousands of flag-waving supporters at a rally marking the sixth anniversary of the death of his predecessor, Yasser Arafat. In the Gaza Strip, Abbas' bitter political rival, the Islamic militant Hamas, suppressed all Arafat commemorations, a sign of the deepening political rift despite renewed attempts by the two sides to reconcile.

The U.S. launched Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in September, but negotiations foundered a month later when Israel resumed building new homes for Jews in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, territories the Palestinians claim for a future state. The Palestinians say they won't resume negotiations until all building stops. The U.S. has so far failed to broker a compromise.

About halfway through his speech Thursday, Abbas sent an appeal to Israelis.

"I now turn to the Israeli people," he said. "I hope they will hear us -- those who believe in peace, if they exist."

"Making peace is more important than settlements," he said. "A comprehensive and fair peace is more precious than anything else."

Although Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has voiced support for the idea of a Palestinian state, albeit with many restrictions, he faces stiff opposition from members of his pro-settler coalition government.

Abbas said internal politics should not hinder the peace process, and the window for reaching a peace deal is closing.

"Our children and your children need to taste coexistence, stability, equal security, with mutual respect before the opportunity is wasted," he said.

In Gaza, Hamas lawmaker Mushir al-Masri said Abbas' speech "is divisive and reflects the spirit of despair resulting from the failure of the so-called peace process."

Reflecting the yawning gap between the two territories, Hamas police broke up a private screening of a documentary about Arafat's life on Thursday, attendees said.

Palestinian lawmaker Ashraf Jumma said police cut the electricity to his office and detained a number of the more than two dozen attendees, including journalists. Some were forced to show their footage to police and were released only after promising not to air it.

Hamas officials declined to comment.

Hamas has banned commemoration of Arafat's death since it seized control of Gaza in 2007 from forces loyal to Abbas. Since then, Abbas' Western-backed Palestinian Authority has governed only the West Bank. Repeated efforts to reconcile the groups, including a high-level meeting in Syria this week, have failed.

The Foreign Press Association, which represents journalists from international news organizations covering Israel and the Palestinian territories, condemned the detentions.

"This is the latest in what seems to be a systematic campaign by Hamas to harass and intimidate journalists," the association said in a statement. It called on Hamas to respect press freedom.