NEWS

Palestinians ‘no risk to Olympics’

The new Palestinian ambassador to Greece, Marwan Abdelhamid, yesterday reassured Greek reporters that factions under the control of Yasser Arafat would do all they could to prevent any «isolated» terrorist attacks during the Olympic Games. During a press briefing at the headquarters of the Diplomatic Representation of Palestine in the Athenian suburb of Palaio Psychico, Abdelhamid agreed to discuss Olympic security following his assessment of ongoing Israeli incursions into Palestinian territories. Asked by Kathimerini English Edition whether he believed that Greece’s traditionally friendly ties with Arab nations mean it will not be targeted by Islamic fundamentalists during the Olympics, Abdelhamid categorically stated that there was no risk from Palestinian groups. «Certainly, no Palestinian would even think of such an attack on Greece. I cannot speak for other Arab nations, but I think an attack is highly unlikely,» he said. «Beyond this, we have asked all Palestinian factions to do everything they can to ensure that there are no isolated incidents,» he continued. He added that Palestinian diplomats would meet with Greek counterparts in Athens early next month to discuss security for the Games but refused to disclose whether «bilateral cooperation» would extend beyond information sharing. Generally, the ambassador was very positive about cooperation between Greece and the Palestinians. «I know I am in a country that is supportive of the Palestinian cause and I would like to thank the Greek press for its coverage of developments in our region,» Abdelhamid told reporters. He added that he had briefed Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat about «the position of the Greek government, political parties and the press» during a telephone conversation earlier yesterday, and he extended his gratitude to the Greek Church for its public support of the Palestinian cause. «The solidarity of the Greek people with the Palestinians can be seen generally but also in specific initiatives, such as the readiness of (retired Greek javelin-thrower) Sofia Sakorafa to represent our country at the Olympics,» Abdelhamid said. «We are very touched by her display of support,» the ambassador said of Sakorafa, who yesterday returned to Athens from Ramallah where she met Arafat. However, although the ambassador was positive about Palestinian ties to Greece, his message about the prospect of a peaceful future for his people was less optimistic. «We are convinced that today’s Israeli government does not want peace,» Abdelhamid said. «The Palestinian Authority has implemented all the security provisions of the road map for peace but Israel has not done so and continues to destroy the homes of Palestinians,» he added. «(Israeli Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon admits that he does not accept the Oslo agreement and won’t stand by its provisions,» he continued. «In fact, Israel has rejected all peace agreements to date. And the recent assertions of US President George Bush to Sharon effectively give Sharon the green light to continue with incursions,» he added. «In the Gaza town of Rafah, for example, Sharon’s deployment of troops is basically exploiting the absence of Egyptian soldiers (whose presence there is forbidden due to the Camp David agreement),» the ambassador remarked. Formerly the Palestinian deputy minister of public works and housing, Abdelhamid stressed that there has been an alarming escalation in the demolition of Palestinian homes over the past few years. «Israeli troops were razing an average of 40 Palestinian homes per month in 2002, which rose to 90 homes in 2003 and reached an average of 140 homes per month in the first quarter of 2004,» Abdelhamid said, stressing that these figures only relate to demolitions in the Gaza Strip. When Palestinian officials asked an (unidentified) Israeli military representative to explain the reason behind the demolitions, he answered that Israeli legislation dictated that the homes of offenders be destroyed, the ambassador added. «So why didn’t they demolish the house of the person who murdered Yitzhak Rabin,» he queried, referring to the right-wing Jew who was convicted for the murder of the Israeli premier in November 1995. «This is clearly a racist law.» And Sharon’s declaration that the incursions at the Egyptian border are aimed at destroying alleged arms-smuggling tunnels between the West Bank and Egypt «is a ridiculous assertion – it’s the impression the Israeli military wants to convey to the foreign press,» Abdelhamid said. The ambassador said he had briefed President Costis Stephanopoulos on Tuesday about these incursions and about Sharon’s threats against Arafat which, he stressed, «are very serious.» Questioned by Kathimerini regarding calls by many Palestinian factions for new elections as a way of rejuvenating Arafat’s regime, Abdelhamid said that the intention was for elections to be held but did not say when this might happen. «It depends on the situation on the ground,» he said. «Also, we need help – we need observers, the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the towns where elections will be held – it is not a simple procedure.» «The greatest concern is for the safety of the Palestinian people, and it is not clear who would provide this protection,» he added. Abdelhamid did not rule out the intervention of international observers in the event of a possible pullout of Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip (40 percent of which comprises Israeli settlements) but he did not say which international organization might provide them. «There is an agreement among Palestinian factions that there will be no civil war in the event of a withdrawal but we are aware of the potential problems following a pullout,» the ambassador said. Asked about prospects for a unified leadership for Palestinians, Abdelhamid was adamant that such a leadership «can only be realized under the Palestinian Authority. Any debate will be about who is going to join the Palestinian Authority.»