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War of words mars Arafat anniversary.

Summary: Palestinians commemorated 10 years since the mysterious death of their iconic leader Yasser Arafat Tuesday, but a war of words between rival factions Fatah and Hamas marred the anniversary.

RAMALLAH, Palestine: Palestinians commemorated 10 years since the mysterious death of their iconic leader Yasser Arafat Tuesday, but a war of words between rival factions Fatah and Hamas marred the anniversary.

The frictions blocked a rare memorial service for Arafat planned for Gaza, after Hamas said it could not provide security, following a series of bomb blasts in the territory.

President Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah leader and Arafat's successor, accused the Islamist movement Hamas that controls Gaza of trying to destroy efforts to broker national unity.

But Hamas hit back at Abbas, saying that he had uttered "lies, insults and disinformation."

The contrast on the ground in Gaza City and the West Bank city of Ramallah, where Abbas' Palestinian Authority is based, was striking.

As a band paid musical tributes, thousands of people waving the yellow flag of Fatah gathered at the Mouqataa compound in Ramallah where Arafat was buried after his death aged 75 in a hospital near Paris on Nov. 11, 2004.

"The hour of freedom and independence has arrived," read a giant banner on the stage where Abbas gave a speech.

In Gaza City, Arafat's portrait was nowhere to be seen and the stage where a tribute was to have been paid bore the marks of an explosion that took place last Friday.

"We were hoping this anniversary would mark the end of Palestinian divisions and show national unity, with Hamas standing alongside Fatah in paying tribute," said Suheila Barbah, a young woman in Gaza City.

Arafat was "the personification of national unity," said Refaat Hajaj, a Gazan in his 30s. "They have deprived us of this anniversary."

In his speech for the anniversary, Abbas said that Hamas was behind the Gaza explosions that had targeted Fatah leaders.

"Those who caused the explosions in Gaza are the leaders of Hamas -- they are responsible," he said, accusing the rival faction of trying "to sabotage and destroy the Palestinian national project."

Earlier this year, the two movements signed a reconciliation agreement aimed at ending seven years of bitter and sometimes bloody rivalry that saw the West Bank and Gaza ruled by separate administrations.

The deal led to the creation of a national consensus government that took office in Ramallah but has yet to fully exert its powers in Gaza, Hamas' stronghold.

Following his speech, Abbas was denounced by Hamas as "sectarian and partisan."

"Abbas's speech is a web of lies, insults and disinformation," said Mushir al-Masri, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza.

"What the Palestinian people need is a courageous president."

Fayez Abou Eita, spokesman for Fatah in Gaza, called for an inquiry into the "terrorist" blasts, which reportedly caused no casualties.

Abbas also accused Israel of provoking a "religious war" as new violence between the sides broke out in the West Bank, leaving a Palestinian man dead, amid mounting concerns that the long-running conflict is entering a new and dangerous phase.

Abbas said Israel was trying to divide the mosque compound, and compared it to the experience of a holy site in the West Bank that was split between Jewish and Muslim sides after an Israeli settler gunned down 29 Muslim worshippers there 20 years ago.

"Leaders of Israel make a mistake if they think they can divide the Al-Aqsa Mosque as they have done in Ibrahimi Mosque, and they will retreat from this one too," he said.

"By dividing the mosques, they are leading us to a religious war, and no one, Muslim or Christian, will accept that Jerusalem be theirs. Jerusalem is our capital, and there will be no concessions."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to take a "heavy hand" against a wave of violence and accused Abbas of having fomented the unrest.In a nationwide address, Netanyahu said Abbas had incited the recent violence. Netanyahu said Abbas was not a partner for peace and Israel would take tough new measures against Arab demonstrators.

Abbas also reaffirmed his plans to submit a draft resolution to the U.N. Security Council this month, calling for an end to Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories by November 2016.

He promised that the Palestinians, who won the U.N. rank of observer state in 2012, would apply to join a host of international organizations if the resolution was blocked by a U.S. veto.

Two years ago, Swiss experts who examined the personal effects of the veteran Palestinian leader reported finding abnormal levels of polonium, an extremely radioactive toxin, fueling the widespread Palestinian belief that he was poisoned by Israel.

Israel has repeatedly denied any role in Arafat's death.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Geographic Code:7ISRA
Date:Nov 12, 2014
Words:805
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