Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party held on Tuesday its long-awaited General Assembly in the holy West Bank city Bethlehem amid the absence of 400 Gaza members who were banned by Hamas rulers to join the convention.
More than 2,000 Fatah congress members as well as hundreds of Arab and foreign diplomats and visitors arrived on Tuesday at the conference hall in a school near the Church of Nativity in the city. However, 400 Gaza Fatah members were absent after they were forbidden by Hamas to leave the Gaza Strip.
Nearly 80 Arab and international delegations and parties attended the opening session of the three-day conference, which is scheduled to end on Thursday with electing a new central committee and a revolutionary council to replace the current bodies that had been elected in 1989.
Ahmed Qurei, speaker of the congress, launched the opening ceremony, saying "We are facing a big challenge that we can't evade; there is no choice but to succeed and to come out from the conference with a hand to continue."
Amid warm welcome and clapping of the attendants, Abbas, who is the leader of the 44-year-old Fatah party, said in a long speech that his party has overcome Hamas by holding its general conference, accusing the Islamic movement of trying to foil the congress.
"Fatah movement demonstrates its rejection to be a hostage in the hands of the coup-makers in the Gaza Strip," said Abbas, in reference to Hamas, which banned Gaza Fatah members' travel. Hamas seized control of the impoverished enclave in June 2007 and routed Abbas security forces.
Hamas spokesman in Gaza Fawzi Barhoum told Xinhua in response to Abbas speech that it was "hostile, collusive, encountering, and doesn't show or give any indication that there will be a real reconciliation in the future."
"The one who is described as coup-maker is Abbas and his Fatah party and not Hamas, which was legally elected through the ballots," said Barhoum, who expressed hope that Fatah will elect a new leadership that gets rid of Fatah corrupted people and stop security collaboration with Israel.
Although Abbas slammed Hamas for seizing control of the Gaza Strip by force four month after signing Mecca reconciliation agreement in Feb. 2007, he said "We never denied the presence of Hamas, it is part of the Palestinian people, we don't intend to erase it and we insist to have a dialogue with it."
"Abbas who rejected to free our prisoners from his jails and prevented Gaza Strip populations' renewal of their passports is the one who doesn't want Gaza Fatah members to join the conference and not Hamas," said Barhoum.
The Fatah congress in Bethlehem is held for the first time with the absence of late leader Yasser Arafat, who died in a French Hospital of a mysterious disease on Nov. 11, 2004.
Abbas called on renewing the investigation "to know the reasons behind Arafat's mysterious death," adding "the spirit of Yasser Arafat will not go in vain."
Inside the hall, all Fatah congress members, including Abbas wore the traditional black-and-white scarf, better known as the Palestinian "Kofeya". Whenever Abbas mentioned the names of Lebanon, Egypt and Tunisia, the attendants were greeting and clapping for the countries' historic support to the Palestinian people.
"Here we are again, to achieve Fatah reunification. In spite of the wounds, Fatah movement managed to lead the Palestinians successfully," said Abbas, who admitted before the crowd that "We made mistakes over the past 20 years, and this is why we lost the last elections and we lost the Gaza Strip."
Meanwhile, Abbas renewed rejection of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's economic peace plan, adding that "Netanyahu's plan aims at diverting the world's attention from the (Palestinian) political rights."
"We are not seeking for getting bread only, we want to have our freedom firstly and lastly," he said, adding that the peace process with Israel must lead to "independence, creating the Palestinian statehood with Jerusalem as a capital."
He stressed that there will be no peace deal with Israel unless it stops settlement activities on Palestinian land, especially in West Bank and East Jerusalem. "What is being built on our land since 1967 is illegal."
He also stressed that no peace deal to be signed before Israel cleans up its prisons and free all Palestinian prisoners.
Abbas also called for the invention of new types of "resistance" to gain more support for the Palestinian cause, adding "We will keep our original right in legal resistance allowed by the international laws."
However, Abbas stressed that Fatah movement and the Palestinian people have chosen the choice of peace to establish the independent Palestinian statehood together to be adhered to the choice of resistance. Abbas hasn't referred to armed resistance against Israel, in which his group adopted since it was founded in1965.
During the three-day congress meetings, the members will discuss and debate an amended political platform of Fatah movement which called to approve a new strategy of peaceful popular resistance against Israel as an alternative if the peace negotiations with Israel fail.