A SENIOR aide to Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas has said that Palestinians should follow the example of Kosovo and unilaterally declare independence if Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations fail.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, a member of the Palestinian negotiating team, said: ‘If things are not going in the direction of actually halting settlement activities, if things are not going in the direction of continuous and serious negotiations, then we should take the step and announce our independence unilaterally.’

‘Kosovo is not better than us. We deserve independence even before Kosovo, and we ask for the backing of the United States and the European Union for our independence,’ Abed Rabbo added.

Abed Rabbo made this remark after Tuesday’s meeting between Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, amid growing concerns that the talks are not showing signs of progress.

Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia on Monday, gaining the immediate recognition of Western powers such as the United States, United Kingdom, and France.

President Abbas later ruled out a unilateral declaration. ‘We will pursue negotiations in order to reach a peace agreement during 2008 that includes the settlement of all final status issues including Jerusalem,’ Abbas said.

‘But if we cannot achieve that, and we reach a deadlock, we will go back to our Arab nation to take the necessary decision at the highest level,’ he continued.

Saeb Erekat, the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s (PLO) chief negotiator said that he opposes a unilateral declaration, noting that the PLO declared independence in 1988.

‘Now we need real independence, not a declaration. We need real independence by ending the occupation. We are not Kosovo. We are under Israeli occupation and for independence we need to acquire independence,’ Erekat said.

Meanwhile Hamas has called on President Abbas to suspend his meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, which it described as futile, meetings which continue to take place in spite of the continued aggression, assassinations, and judaization of Jerusalem.

President Mahmud Abbas is scheduled to meet Olmert this evening to discuss the latest developments though Olmert threatened that he will continue to cut down on the quantities of fuel supplied to Gaza and assassinate Palestinian leaders.

Tahir al-Nunu, spokesman for the Palestinian Hamas government, said that this meeting is in continuation of the futile meetings that only give the occupation the excuse to pursue its aggression and terrorism on the Palestinian people.

Al-Nunu told the Filastin newspaper: ‘We call on President Abbas to suspend immediately these meetings that do not serve the Palestinian people.’

Al-Nunu added: ‘These futile meetings continue while the occupation state pursues its settlement activities, the diggings under the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the assassinations, and the bombardment of houses.’

Al-Nunu emphasised that the Palestinian negotiating team must adopt a serious and explicit stand by suspending these futile meetings.

Replying to the absence of any reaction by the Palestinian presidency to the recent Israeli raids, the spokesman for the Palestinian Hamas government said: ‘Unfortunately, there is a joint interest in bringing pressure on the Palestinian government and on Gaza to have it surrender to the occupation and resume the imposition of concessions through the futile negotiations.’

• A Palestinian man has been hospitalised for the tenth day after being attacked by wild boars released by Israeli settlers

The wild boars were released by Israeli settlers.

They attacked and seriously wounded a Palestinian man in the northern West Bank, Palestinian security officials said.

53-year-old Hikmat Abdul Mu’ti from the town of Beit Rima was hospitalised ten days ago after the animals attacked him while he was walking to his fields.

According to medical sources at the Yasser Arafat Hospital in the city of Salfit, the man sustained a ‘deep wound,’ and is still in the hospital.

The security officials said that settlers from the Ariel settlement deliberately release wild boars, especially in Kana valley fields which belong to the West Bank village of Deir Istiya.

In the past these boars have been known to damage crops in that valley and frequently attack farmers.

The Palestinian police reported about another similar attack by a boar against a woman and her child from the village of Sarta near Salfit.

Palestinian farmers appealed to the governor of Salfit and the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture as well as humanitarian organisations to visit the area and see first hand the suffering and the material losses caused by the boars.

• Conditions in the Gaza Strip are ‘grim and miserable and in no way in accordance with basic human dignity,’ the United Nations’ (UN) top humanitarian official, John Holmes, said on Monday.

Holmes, the Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, toured the Gaza Strip and Sderot, the Israeli city most affected by Palestinian projectile attacks last weekend.

He wrapped up his visit by expressing his concern about both the projectiles and the deteriorating situation in Gaza.

In response to the attacks on Sderot and other cities, Israel has imposed a crippling blockade of Gaza, closing all the territory’s border crossings and cutting supplies of fuel and electricity.

Holmes noted that the Gaza Strip is increasingly dependent on international aid, with 75 per cent of Gazans receiving food aid. Gaza’s medical sector, he said, is ‘teetering on the edge of viability.’

Holmes also said that there are 230 million US dollars of UN-sponsored humanitarian projects that have been suspended due to the Israeli closure.

Holmes said that the Palestinian Authority should take responsibility for Gaza’s border crossings, a proposal that neither Israel nor the Hamas-led de facto government of Gaza have accepted.

Asked whether the lockdown of the Gaza Strip constitutes economic sanctions between one state and another, as Israel has argued, or a blockade, an act of war as human rights groups have argued, Holmes said that ‘it certainly looks more like a blockade to me,’ and that Israel still has obligations in Gaza under the Geneva Conventions as the occupying power.