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US Denies Plotting Hamas Overthrow

By David Gollust
State Department
04 March 2008

The Bush administration Tuesday denied a published report that it covertly sought to oust Hamas from power after the radical group won Palestinian elections in 2006, triggering a Palestinian civil conflict a year later. The State Department says Hamas itself provoked the fighting that left it in control of Gaza. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Officials here are rejecting, in unusually strong terms, a U.S. magazine report claiming the Bush administration tried to organize the armed overthrow of Hamas, after the militant Islamic group took over the Palestinian government after 2006 elections.

The magazine Vanity Fair, in the article released Tuesday, said key administration officials including President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice decided after the election to arm Palestinian forces of the mainstream Fatah movement in order to drive Hamas from power.

Vanity Fair, which said its information came from confidential documents and former administration officials, said the plan backfired when the U.S.-backed Fatah fighters "inadvertently provoked" Hamas to seize total control of Gaza.

At a news briefing, State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said U.S. policy after the Hamas election win was to help build up Palestinian institutions including security forces that remained under control of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah.

Casey said the United States refused any contact with Hamas because it, unlike President Abbas, refused to accept the international Middle East Quartet's terms for dialogue, notably acceptance of Israel's right to exist and renouncing terrorism.

The spokesman, who noted the administration was forbidden by law from furnishing lethal arms to the Abbas forces, said the suggestion the United States was advocating an attack on Hamas by Fatah forces is completely untrue:

"The story alleges that there was some kind of secret plot on the part of the U.S. government to create an internal conflict within the Palestinians, specifically an armed conflict. That's absurd. That's ridiculous. I said this morning that I think Vanity Fair should stick to arty photos of celebrities since clearly, at least in this instance, their efforts at serious journalism leaves something lacking."

Secretary of State Rice, in the Middle East trying to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, said in Ramallah the United States had been very clear in its desire to boost the security capabilities of the Palestinian Authority.

The Bush administration has not denied pressing moderate Arab states to provide arms to Palestinian Authority units in Gaza, before Hamas seized control there in June 2007.

But spokesman Casey insisted that Hamas instigated what he termed an "illegal armed takeover" of the Gaza Strip, and that the threat at the time had come from Hamas and not U.S. efforts to help build Palestinian institutions.

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