By Nidal al-Mughrabi
GAZA, Nov 1 (Reuters) - Hamas plans to promote hardline Palestinian opposition to President Mahmoud Abbas’s upcoming peace conference with Israel by convening alternative events to the U.S.-hosted parley, the Islamist group said on Thursday.
Abbas, whose secular Fatah lost a civil war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip in June, is expected to hash out Palestinian statehood ideas with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and U.S.-allied Arab leaders in Annapolis, Maryland, by year’s end.
Abbas’s vision of a state in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, alongside the Jewish state, is anathema for Hamas. Many Palestinians also suspect Abbas will compromise on core demands regarding the rights of their refugees and Jerusalem’s status.
Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said the group would host its own conference in Gaza in the next few days.
"Factions and important national figures have been invited to attend the meeting in Gaza, which plans to stress that nobody is authorised to make concessions on fixed Palestinian rights," Abu Zuhri told Reuters.
"The conference will also stress the need to unite against the Israeli occupation," he added. Hamas regards Israel as occupied Arab land.
Abbas insists that his diplomatic approach has majority Palestinian support and that he will fight for core demands.
In Tel Aviv, Olmert praised what he described as Abbas’s determination to reach an accommodation despite Hamas hostility.
"I know better than most how dangerous the terrorists are, how dangerous Hamas is, how unyielding they are, how unsupportive they are of the peace process," Olmert said in a speech in English.
"But at the same time, I know that for the first time in many years there is a Palestinian government which says they are prepared to make peace with the Jewish state — and I am not going to lose this opportunity."
According to Abu Zuhri, the Hamas-led conference in Gaza would be followed, closer to the time of the Annapolis talks, by a similar event in Damascus. Hamas and several other anti-Israel factions have headquarters in the Syrian capital.
Abbas sent envoys to Syria this week to argue against holding the "rejectionist" conference there.
Abu Zuhri said there would be other such conferences elsewhere in the region, but did not immediately elaborate.
(Additional reporting by Ori Lewis in Jerusalem)