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Schadefreude: Ex prez of non existent country "furious" at Israeli capture of terrorists at destroyed Hamas Hilton in Jericho

March 16, 2006

Isolated Abbas furious at Britain over Jericho raid
By Harry de Quetteville in Jerusalem
(Filed: 16/03/2006)

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader, lashed out at Britain yesterday as he denounced the Israeli raid on a Palestinian jail as an "unforgivable crime".

Humiliated and isolated, Mr Abbas made his comments at the ruins of Jericho jail, abandoned by three British monitors on Tuesday, prompting Israel's operation to capture six of its prisoners.

Mahmoud Abbas
Mahmoud Abbas is watched closely by Palestinian security during a visit to the Jericho jail

As Mr Abbas fulminated, the consequences of Britain's withdrawal, justified by the Foreign Office on the grounds of security, became clear.

In demonstrations in the West Bank, Palestinians shouted slogans against a president unable to stop men viewed by many as heroes being snatched by Israel.

Among those taken was Ahmed Saadat, head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), accused by Israel of ordering the 2001 murder of a cabinet minister.

Mr Abbas, long hailed at Downing Street and the White House as the moderate, pragmatic face of Palestinian politics, yesterday appeared to be little more than a cipher.

He began Tuesday already embattled, leading a fund-raising tour to plug the vast gap in the budget left by aid cuts after the victory of Hamas, the militant group, in January elections.

By yesterday, however, his difficult task of reconciling the will of the Palestinian street with the demands of the international community seemed to have become impossible. Amid the rubble of the jail it was clear that former backers, foreign and domestic, had deserted him.

"What happened in Jericho is a dreadful crime and a violation of all agreements," said Mr Abbas, who admitted that the British and Americans "told us that they would withdraw a week ago".

Hundreds of Palestinian protesters rallied against him in the West Bank city of Nablus, one of several demonstrations held throughout the Palestinian territories.

A general strike was called and many shops remained closed but there was no repeat of the fury that erupted on Tuesday, when British Council buildings were attacked and many internationals in the West Bank and Gaza kidnapped.

All of those held hostage had been released by yesterday afternoon.

In Israel, the crisis caused the political star of Ehud Olmert, the acting premier, to brighten considerably only two weeks ahead of a election.

Mr Olmert, who has inherited the centrist Kadima party from Ariel Sharon, who is in a coma, has none of Mr Sharon's soldiering background or decorations, which are all but obligatory to run for office in Israel.

But after Tuesday's successful military operation he was hailed across the political spectrum as a steadfast leader with the courage to order 1,000 troops into battle.

Both his major rivals in the March 28 poll - Likud's Binyamin Netanyahu to the Right and Labour's Amir Peretz to the Left - were floored by the decisive raid, claiming only that they would have done the same had they been in office.

In the press, the timing of the operation was widely seen as a godsend for Mr Olmert, but one that he grasped with both hands.

"Perfect timing and a little bit of luck is all one needs in life, and Olmert yesterday had his share of both," noted the Maariv newspaper.

"Olmert has the courage necessary to take the chance, and he's not one to miss an opportunity as unique as this."

Maariv, like many papers, sounded a triumphalist note at the outcome of the raid, in which five men Israel accuses of the 2001 assassination of its tourism minister were taken into its custody.

"We got them," ran its front-page headline, echoing the US soundbite after the capture of Saddam Hussein.

15 March 2006: How the walls of Jericho were breached
15 March 2006: British Council torched on day of Palestinian rioting
15 March 2006: Diplomatic ruse lasted four years and ended in failure

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