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Palestinian official seeks foreign help in TV leak

A senior Palestinian official said Thursday that he has asked the U.S., Britain and France to help bring three of their nationals for questioning about the massive leak of confidential Palestinian documents.

Chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said the three include a former British intelligence officer, an American employee of Al-Jazeera TV and a French citizen. He said he is not accusing them of wrongdoing, but would like them to appear before an investigative committee.

Al-Jazeera, a Qatar-based Arab satellite station, this week published excerpts from what it said is a cache of hundreds of documents covering a decade of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. The station, widely watched in the Arab world, alleges that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas secretly made major concessions to Israel.

Abbas and his aides say they are victims of a smear campaign.

The leaks have intensified the bitter rivalry between Abbas and the Islamic militant Hamas, which wrested the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian president in a violent takeover in 2007.

On Wednesday, thousands marched in Gaza in Hamas-led protests, accusing Abbas of being a traitor and burning him in effigy.

On Thursday, hundreds rallied in Gaza City, burning a photo of Abbas and raising a large picture of Al-Jazeera's benefactor, the emir of Qatar.

Salah Bardawil, a Hamas legislator, told the crowd that "those traitors and anyone who is thinking of compromising any of our rights" should be put on trial.

In the West Bank, several thousands Fatah supporters chanted slogans against Al-Jazeera and in support of Abbas on Thursday. They also burned photos of two senior Hamas leaders.

Erekat, who frequently meets with Israeli and U.S. officials, features in many of the documents. Palestinian officials have said they believe the documents were leaked by someone in a department he heads, the Negotiations Support Unit.

Erekat told The Associated Press on Thursday that the investigation into the leaks is still continuing.

He said he has asked the United States, Britain and France for help bringing three people for questioning about the leaks. "We want them to appear before an investigation committee," he said.

Erekat said he has tried to contact the American citizen, but to no avail. "I am not accusing him of anything. We want to investigate him," he said, adding that he had contacted U.S. diplomats for assistance.

Al-Jazeera officials have been unavailable for comment throughout the week. The French national declined comment when contacted by The AP, and the former British intelligence officer said he might discuss the issue at a later time.

Many of the leaked documents detail 2008 negotiations between Abbas and Israel's leader at the time, Ehud Olmert. Those talks were cut short by Israel's three-week war on Hamas-ruled Gaza, launched in late 2008, and mounting corruption allegations against Olmert that eventually forced him out of office.

U.S. efforts to revive talks between Abbas and Olmert's hardline successor, Benjamin Netanyahu, quickly ran aground over Israeli settlement expansion. Abbas says he will not return to talks without a full settlement freeze, a demand Netanyahu has rejected.

In an upcoming book, Olmert writes that he asked Abbas in their last meeting in September 2008 to sign his blueprint for a peace deal, but that Abbas demurred.

At the time, Olmert sought to annex 6.5 percent of the West Bank, including large Israeli settlements there, and give the Palestinians an equal amount of land from what is now Israel. Abbas said he could agree to no more than 1.9 percent.

In a book excerpt published Thursday by the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot, Olmert wrote that he told Abbas at their last meeting: "Take the pen and sign now. You will never receive a fairer or more equitable proposal."

According to Olmert's previously disclosed proposals, Israel would retain West Bank settlement blocs and Jewish enclaves in east Jerusalem. The Old City of Jerusalem, home to important Islamic, Jewish and Christian shrines, and its environs would be under international administration.

The Palestinian state would be demilitarized and Israel would absorb a limited number of Palestinian refugees.

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Additional reporting by Amy Teibel in Jerusalem, Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, and Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City.