Militants: Palestinian Peace Negotiators 'Traitors'

A leader of the Hamas militant group told thousands at a rally Friday that Palestinians who negotiated a symbolic peace agreement with Israel are traitors.

In Jerusalem, tens of thousands of Palestinians marked an important day of prayer — the last Friday of the holy month of Ramadan (search) — at a disputed hilltop shrine. Hundreds of worshippers kept from the city by Israeli travel bans performed the prayer at a military checkpoint, kneeling in rows.

In Gaza's Jebaliya refugee camp, about 4,000 supporters of Hamas (search) and Islamic Jihad (search) protested against the symbolic "Geneva Accord" negotiated by prominent Israelis and Palestinians. The deal is being circulated by mail and displayed in newspapers to build support.

The agreement has neither formal standing nor the backing of the Israeli and Palestinian governments, but its authors hope the 50-page document will be the basis of official negotiations.

Hamas, which along with other militant groups has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings and other attacks, rejects the existence of a Jewish state in the Middle East and opposes any Palestinian efforts to make peace with Israel.

Hamas and 12 other Palestinian factions, however, have agreed to attend truce talks in Cairo, Egypt, starting Dec. 2, and said they'd consider halting attacks on Israelis if Israel stops military strikes.

In Jebaliya, some men wore black hoods and held up fists gripping hand grenades. Others burned banners with the names of various peace accords with Israel.

Speaking to the crowd, Hamas leader Nizar Riayan said the Palestinians who negotiated the Geneva Accord are traitors.

"Those behind this document should be brought to trial because no one authorized them to talk on behalf of the Palestinian people and to betray us with this document," Riayan said. "God willing, we are not going to give up our rights over our holy land."

Demonstrators were particularly angered because the plan makes no mention of the "right of return" of war refugees and their descendants to homes in what is now Israel.

Israeli government officials have also been strongly critical of the plan, calling its negotiators irresponsible and naive. The Foreign Ministry even summoned a senior Swiss diplomat to protest Switzerland's backing for the plan.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has given his support to the effort but has said he won't officially endorse it until the Israeli government does.

Among the Palestinians who helped work out the deal are former Cabinet minister Yasser Abed Rabbo and lawmakers from Arafat's Fatah movement. Leading the Israeli side is Yossi Beilin, architect of interim peace accords with the Palestinians.

The plan is to be officially launched on Dec. 1 in Geneva. It calls for an Israeli withdrawal from nearly all of the West Bank and Gaza — territories captured the 1967 Mideast war — to make way for a Palestinian state.

Jerusalem would be divided by an international border, with Jewish neighborhoods falling to Israel and Arab neighborhoods to a future state of Palestine.

Also Friday, about 200,000 Palestinians gathered at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, a disputed hilltop shrine in Jerusalem's Old City, for Ramadan prayers. The site is revered by Muslims and Jews.

There were no clashes between worshippers and Israeli security forces, but soldiers manning checkpoints in the West Bank refused to allow many Palestinians to make the trek to Jerusalem, setting off angry shouting matches.

At the edge of Bethlehem, soldiers blocked a road with jeeps and stopped a crowd of about 400 Palestinians from passing a checkpoint to make the 6 mile journey north to Jerusalem.

The worshippers taunted soldiers and tried to jump over coils of barbed wire across the road. Others unrolled prayer rugs in neat rows and bowed in the direction of the holy city of Mecca. A commander at the checkpoint cited alerts of possible terror attacks as the reason for barring the Palestinians from passing the roadblock.

The Jerusalem site is also holy to Jews as the place where the two biblical Temples stood before they were destroyed by invading armies. For Muslims, tradition says the site marks the place where Muhammad ascended to heaven.

Control of the plaza is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A visit to the plaza in September 2000 by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon — who was then Israel's opposition leader — was intended to demonstrate Israel's hold on all of Jerusalem and set off days of rioting that widened into the current three-year-old conflict.