Ramallah, West Bank Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas lashed out at the Islamic militants of Hamas on Wednesday, accusing them of trying to build an "empire of darkness" in the Gaza Strip and pledging he would not negotiate with the "murderous terrorists."
Addressing Palestinians for the first time since Hamas seized control of Gaza a week ago, Abbas said Hamas had attacked "national symbols" during the fighting in the coastal territory, including ransacking the house of the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni talked by telephone Wednesday with Salam Fayyad, the prime minister named by Abbas to head a new Cabinet that excludes Hamas. It was the first direct contact between Israel and the new government.
"The establishment (of the new administration) facilitates progress on ... the peace process," a Foreign Ministry statement quoted Livni as saying.
Several hours before Abbas' speech, Israel fired missiles and sent tanks on a foray into Gaza, killing four Palestinians in the deadliest military action since Hamas militants took control there. Two more militants were killed by Israeli army fire in a shootout in the West Bank.
After nightfall, the Palestinians hit back with a barrage of rockets at the southern Israeli town of Sderot. First Hamas, then Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility. One rocket struck a house, and Israel TV said two Israelis were slightly wounded.
Mahmoud Zahar, the man widely believed to be leading Gaza's new Hamas regime, said the group would be open to a cease-fire with Israel if the army halted its activities in Gaza and the West Bank.
Abbas' scathing criticism of Hamas came in a televised speech to a top PLO body, the Palestine National Council, seeking support for his declaring a state of emergency and his dismissing of the Hamas-led coalition Cabinet and naming an emergency Cabinet of moderates.
He hinted at the possibility of using the council to give formal approval to the new Cabinet, bypassing the Palestinian parliament, where Hamas has a majority. The council last convened in 2004, after the death of Abbas' predecessor, Arafat.
Abbas, leader of the more secular Fatah movement, was uncharacteristically harsh in his verbal attack on Hamas, which he said is trying to establish an "empire of darkness" in Gaza. He called it a conflict "between those who are using assassination and killing to achieve their goals, and those who are using the rules of law."
Disdaining Hamas, he added, "There is no dialogue with those murderous terrorists."
"Our main goal is to prevent sedition from spreading to the West Bank, ... to prevent violations by any party, and to deal (with everyone) equally, based on law," he said.
At one point, Abbas described in great detail what he said was a Hamas attempt to assassinate him. He said he obtained video of Hamas members dragging explosives through a tunnel they dug under Gaza's main road - the one he takes to his office - and saying "this is for Abu Mazen," Abbas' nickname.