February 1, 2009 - 1:00am

Hamas will not push for Palestinian reconciliation talks if President Mahmoud Abbas insists on the supremacy of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the Islamist group said Monday.

In a statement mocking Abbas and his supporters, a high-level Hamas official accused Abbas of siding with Israel during its recent invasion of Gaza, and seeking to "return on Israeli tanks" to govern the territory.

Abbas on Sunday rejected a call by Hamas to replace the PLO with an organisation less dominated by his allies, and said recognising the primacy of the PLO in representing all Palestinians was a condition for dialogue.

Earlier Monday, aides to Abbas said the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation talks will be a topic of discussion when he sits down with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris on Monday.

France was taking center stage Monday on Mideast diplomacy, with visits by Abbas, the new U.S. envoy to the region and the prime minister of Qatar.

Sarkozy took an active role in helping broker a cease-fire for Israel's recent offensive in the Gaza Strip, and French diplomats have been spearheading efforts to knit together European consensus for a longer-term peace.

Sarkozy was to meet Monday with Abbas and Qatar's Sheik Hamad bin Jassem
al-Thani. The Gulf state of Qatar has emerged as a regional mediator since it helped resolve a long-standing political crisis in Lebanon last year, and Al-Thani has called for Arab reconciliation despite complicated relations with heavy hitters in the region.

Sarkozy's chief of staff was to meet with President Barack Obama's new Mideast envoy George Mitchell, who met with Palestinian officials including Abbas last week. Washington's point man was also to meet Monday with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner.

Abbas is on a European tour this week that will take him to the EU parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday and go to Britain, Italy, Turkey and Poland. He is to meet on Tuesday with Bernard Accoyer, president of the National Assembly, the lower house of the French parliament, Accoyer's office said.

Abbas' aides say he is trying to drum up European support for a unity government that would include Hamas. He also wants international backing for his demands that he be given a role in Gaza reconstruction and that his troops be deployed at the Gaza border crossings with Israel and Egypt.

Hamas, for now, is cool to both ideas.

Scattered violence has resumed in recent days after Israel ended a three-week offensive meant to halt rocket attacks on Israel and end weapons smuggling into Gaza.

Kouchner suggested last week that France was open to the idea of a unity
government if Hamas softens its stance.

He also expressed concern about the renewed violence.

"We are worried. It could take off very quickly," he told The Associated Press. "We want the doors to Gaza to open, he said of the territory that has been blockaded since Hamas took control in 2007."


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017