Middle East

Mid-East talks doomed, says Iranian leader Ahmadinejad

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at Tehran University 3 September
Image caption The Iranian leadership is known to support militant Palestinian groups such as Hamas

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has described the direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians as futile and doomed to fail.

His comments - the first regional reaction to the talks - came a day after the first direct talks between the two sides since 2008.

Right-wing Israeli activists and Gaza militants also reacted angrily. Hamas has vowed to step up attacks on Israel.

But moderate Israelis and Palestinians have welcomed the peace process.

The US Middle East envoy earlier said the talks, between Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, had been "constructive".

The talks at the US state department had been initiated by US President Barack Obama, who gave both sides a one-year deadline to reach a solution.

The Israeli and Palestinian delegations agreed to meet again in the Middle East in two weeks.

'All options open'

Addressing an annual pro-Palestinian rally in Tehran to mark al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day, President Ahmadinejad said the Palestinians should to continue to resist the Israeli occupation.

"The fate of Palestine will be decided in Palestine and through resistance and not in Washington," he said.

Echoing criticism from Hamas, Mr Ahmadinejad said Mr Abbas had no authority to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinians.

Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, is a rival of Mr Abbas' Fatah group, which runs the West Bank.

Iran is known to support militant Palestinian groups such as Hamas, while Egypt and Jordan, who were invited to the launch of the talks in Washington, support Mr Abbas.

Meanwhile in Gaza, a spokesman for Hamas' military wing said that 13 armed groups - including the Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees - had joined forces to launch "more effective attacks".

"The actions of resistance have gone into a new and advanced stage of co-operation... for more effective attacks against the enemy (Israel)," Abu Ubaida was quoted as saying by Reuters.

Asked if such attacks would include suicide bombings, he said: "All options are open."

Earlier this week, the armed wing of Hamas said it carried out two attacks which killed four Israeli settlers and wounded two others in the West Bank. Hamas has carried out dozens of suicide attacks against Israel since 2000.

In Israel, there has also been an angry reaction to the Washington talks from right-wing activists, the BBC's Wyre Davies in Jerusalem reports.

Some of the activists condemned Mr Netanyahu for calling the Palestinians his partners in peace.

Even some members of Mr Netanyahu's coalition government said that talks would lead nowhere because Israel could not compromise on issues like Jewish settlements on the occupied Palestinian territories, our correspondent adds.

Further talks

On Thursday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who hosted the talks, told Mr Abbas and Mr Netanyahu they had the "opportunity to end this conflict".

Both Mr Netanyahu and Mr Abbas acknowledged the difficulty of the task ahead, but expressed hope of reaching an agreement "within a year".

The leaders also raised two of the issues that are central to the talks: security for the Israelis, and Jewish settlement construction on Palestinian territories.

"We call on the Israeli government to move forward with its commitment to end all settlement activities and completely lift the embargo over the Gaza Strip," Mr Abbas said.

Mr Netanyahu said "a genuine peace must take into account the security needs of Israel". He also repeated the demand that the Palestinians recognise Israel as a Jewish state.

US envoy George Mitchell said the two leaders had agreed to hold further talks in the Middle East on 14-15 September, then about every two weeks after that.

It had already been agreed, Mr Mitchell said, that the two sides would work to reach a framework agreement on all the issues dividing them that would pave the way for a comprehensive treaty.