Hamas, Fatah in bid to end feud
Cairo - Rival Palestinian delegations from President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah party and the Islamist movement Hamas met in the Egyptian capital on Monday, in what could be their last attempt at reconciliation.
The delegations met for three-way talks with Egypt's intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, the official MENA news agency reported.
The meetings - the fourth round since March - are expected to last at least three days, senior Fatah official Nabil Shaath told AFP.
Nabil Amr, the Palestinian ambassador to Cairo, said he hoped this round "would be the last before an agreement (is reached), because a time-limit must be set".
On Sunday, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation warned that this would be the last attempt at inter-Palestinian reconciliation if talks failed.
The Fatah team is headed by former prime minister Ahmed Qorei, while the Hamas delegation is led by politburo member Mussa Abu Marzouk.
The rival factions are expected to discuss the formation of a national unity government and its programme, the reform of security apparatuses and the drafting of a new electoral law.
Abbas told a political rally in the West Bank town of Ramallah on Monday that if the parties managed to form a unity government, that cabinet would have to abide by past Israeli-Palestinian accords.
'Still many issues to cover'
"It is the government and its members that should respect such deals and not movements," Abbas said.
He was referring to the Hamas movement ruling Gaza whose refusal to recognise past deals, to renounce violence and to recognise Israel has prompted the West to blacklist the Islamist group as a terror outfit.
A new cabinet must also tackle the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip - devastated in a 22-day Israeli offensive in December-January - and prepare for presidential and parliamentary elections "before January 24, 2010", Abbas said.
Amr urged Hamas, which has controlled Gaza since evicting Fatah in June 2007, to "look at the situation realistically and to deal more positively with the international situation".
"The lack of harmony with the international situation means we will not receive any support, on any level, and I believe we are not self-sufficient enough to rebuild Gaza," Amr said.
International donors have pledged $4.5bn to the Palestinians, much of it for rebuilding the impoverished Gaza enclave where more than 1 400 Palestinians were killed in the turn-of-the-year Israeli offensive.
But the aid was promised to the Abbas government, not to Hamas, and no reconstruction aid has been allowed into the territory.
Hopes for progress appeared dim at the start of the talks, with Hamas predicting obstacles and Fatah admitting there were "still many issues to cover".
"But we insist on reaching an agreement," Shaath said.
On Sunday, Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhum said this round of talks would be "the most difficult".