GAZA (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of Palestinians joined anti-Annapolis rallies in Gaza and the West Bank on Tuesday, chanting “Death to Israel” and calling President Mahmoud Abbas a traitor for attending the peace talks.
Speaking at the largest protest in Hamas-run Gaza, leaders of the Islamist group which seized the enclave from Abbas’s forces in June said the president had no right to make concessions to Israel at the U.S.-hosted conference.
“Let them go to a thousand conferences, we say in the name of the Palestinian people that we did not authorize anyone to sign any agreement that harms our rights,” Mahmoud al-Zahar, a Hamas leader, told a cheering crowd.
“Anyone who does so will be judged by history as a traitor.”
Hundreds also defied a ban on anti-Annapolis rallies in the West Bank, where Abbas holds sway, to attend protests held by a snall Islamist group in Ramallah, Nablus, Bethlehem and Hebron -- where up to 3,000 people gathered.
Abbas’s security forces clashed with protesters, hitting out at the crowd with batons, shooting into the air and firing tear gas to disperse the rallies. A journalist was injured and up to 30 people were arrested in Ramallah, a Reuters witness said.
In Gaza, journalists estimated crowds of up to 100,000 people. Hamas put the number closer to 250,000 -- similar to the turnout at a rally called by Abbas’s secular Fatah faction earlier this month for the anniversary of Yasser Arafat’s death.
Waving Palestinian flags as well as the green Hamas banner and black flag of the Islamic Jihad faction, protesters shouted “Abbas is a traitor”.
U.S. President George W.Bush said in a prepared speech on Tuesday the aim of Annapolis was to launch peace negotiations, not seal an accord -- prompting a Hamas official in Gaza to conclude the conference amounted to nothing but “noise”.
While Abbas hopes talks will eventually lead to the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Hamas and Islamic Jihad claim a right to all land that is now Israel.
“There will be no concessions over one inch of Palestine. We will defend this land by our flesh and we will water it by our blood,” Islamic Jihad leader Mohammed al-Hindi told the rally.
In Lebanon, several hundred Palestinians protested at the Ain al-Hilweh camp, home to 70,000 refugees, chanting “Overthrow the Arab traitors,” in reference to Arab states such as Saudi Arabia and Syria which are attending the conference.
Hamas’s seizure of Gaza prompted Abbas to sack a Hamas-led government and accelerate peace talks with Israel. The Islamist group, which is shunned by the West for refusing to renounce violence, was not invited to Annapolis.
Israel views Gaza as an “enemy entity” and launches regular raids into the territory to curb rocket attacks. Hamas and Palestinian medics said Israeli troops killed two Palestinian militants and a civilian in Gaza on Tuesday.
Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah, Atef Sa’ed in Nablus, Haitham Tamimi in Hebron and Joseph Nasr in Jerusalem; Writing by Rebecca Harrison; Editing by Diana Abdallah
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