December 11, 2008 - 1:00am

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has pledged to carry on peace negotiations with Israel regardless of who is elected prime minister in the upcoming elections, the A-Sharq al-Awsat daily reported on Thursday.

Abbas told the paper that the domestic political crisis in Israel has hampered progress in the current talks.

During the interview, the Fatah leader also attacked the rival Hamas movement for blocking Gaza residents with visas issued by the Palestinian Authority from making the pilgrimage to Mecca this month.

He compared the Islamist group to the Shi'ite gangs who captured Mecca a millennia ago and called on the movement to agree to reconciliation talks. He also reiterated his intention to hold elections in the near future and ruled out the possibility of excluding Hamas from the poll.

According to the report, Abbas plans to visit the United States sometime before the end of President George W. Bush's term.


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