RAMALLAH, West Bank – Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (search) said Saturday he would demand strong political and financial support in his upcoming talks with President Bush in Washington and did not believe the recent flare-up of violence between militants and Israelis would hurt his case.
Abbas said the renewed violence that threatened an already shaky truce with Israel (search) was calming down after three straight days of clashes. The Palestinian Interior Ministry said the Islamic militant group Hamas had agreed to stop firing rockets at Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip.
But Hamas (search) warned later Saturday it may walk away from the truce because of a dispute with Abbas' ruling Fatah party over municipal elections in Gaza. It marked the first time Hamas linked its adherence to the cease-fire to an internal Palestinian issue.
Abbas' meeting with Bush at the White House on Thursday could give the Palestinian leader a much-needed boost just as he is about to go head-to-head with top rival Hamas in a parliamentary election, and prepares for the difficult task of taking over Gaza after Israel's planned evacuation this summer.
"We are going to demand two basic things: the first is political support and the second is economic support," Abbas said in Ramallah after arriving home from a two-week tour of South America and Asia.
Congress recently approved a $275 million financial aid package for the Palestinians to help bolster their ailing economy and rehabilitate their shattered security forces. Congress is also expected to consider an additional $160 million in aid next year, said Sylvana Foa, spokeswoman for the Agency for International Development.
Speaking to reporters in Egypt hours before arriving home, Abbas dismissed concerns the recent flare-up of violence in Gaza would undermine his talks with Bush.
"The events are minor and they have calmed down," Abbas said at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik after he met Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak . "I think that the situation has begun to come under control in Gaza."
Since Wednesday, three Palestinian militants have been killed in Gaza, and Hamas has fired dozens of homemade rockets and mortar shells at Jewish settlements.
Hamas — expected to make a strong showing in the parliamentary election — is trying to shore up its position ahead of the vote. Israeli security officials speculated the latest round of violence was an attempt by Hamas to embarrass Abbas.
Late Saturday, a Hamas spokesman warned the group could walk away from the truce, declared in February, over an election dispute in Gaza. Earlier this month, Hamas made a strong showing in local elections in dozens of towns in the West Bank and Gaza, winning about one-third of the races, including key contests.
Acting on a Fatah appeal, a Gaza court ordered a partial revote in three of the biggest communities, prompting Hamas allegations that Fatah is trying to manipulate the election. In a rally Saturday evening, Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri told some 5,000 supporters the group might abandon the truce if the dispute is not settled.
"If this comedy continues," he said, referring to the ruling, "the understandings reached in the latest dialogue in Cairo will go to the wind." Hamas agreed to abide by the truce at a meeting in Cairo.
Abbas said he will also demand Bush declare a "frank American position on implementing the road map after the Gaza withdrawal" this summer.
Both Israel and the Palestinians have failed to fulfill their obligations under the U.S.-backed road map peace plan which calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said he will not negotiate with the Palestinians unless they disarm militant groups,
Abbas is expected to ask Bush to intensify U.S. pressure on Israel to freeze West Bank settlement expansion, a key Israeli obligation under the peace plan.
The Palestinians are especially concerned about an Israeli plan to build 3,650 housing units in the settlement of Maaleh Adumim — the largest Jewish community in the West Bank. Despite public U.S. criticism of the plan, Sharon has said he will go ahead with construction.