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Palestinian gunmen demand apology from president

By Staff
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GAZA, Apr 18 (Reuters) Palestinian militant groups demanded an apology today from President Mahmoud Abbas for condemning a deadly suicide bombing in Israel, in their harshest criticism yet of the moderate leader over his stand on violence.

The criticism, including from armed groups within the president's own Fatah party, underscored a growing debate among Palestinians over the use of violence against Israel.

''We ask President Abbas to apologise to the entire Palestinian people because of the offence he committed,'' the groups said in a joint statement by a coalition of militants read by a masked gunman at an open-air news conference in Gaza.

Abbas, who has been under international pressure to limit the power of a new Hamas-led government since the Islamic militant group crushed his long-dominant Fatah party in January parliamentary polls, was quick to condemn yesterday's attack.

Abbas and his Fatah party support a two-state deal to end conflict with Israel, with a Palestinian state in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Hamas, which called the suicide bombing an act of self-defence, is sworn to destroy the Jewish state.

Abbas said the attack by the Islamic Jihad group, which killed nine people in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv, ran counter to Palestinian interests. But he used stronger wording than usual, describing the attack as ''despicable''.

The militant groups objected to his wording, saying that it was insulting to Palestinian ''martyrs who sacrificed their lives and souls''.

''Abu Mazen (Abbas) should have condemned the killings of our people and fighters rather than condemning Palestinian acts of self-defence,'' the statement said, issued in the name of three Fatah-linked groups and the Popular Resistance Committees, an umbrella group of Palestinian militants.

REUTERS OM KP1835

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