Palestinian rivals hail partnership

2011-11-24 17:46

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Cairo - Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas and Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal on Thursday hailed a new era of partnership between their two rival movements at talks in Cairo aimed at cementing a stalled a unity deal.

Speaking to reporters after several hours of talks, the two leaders said they had managed to iron out their differences and turn over a new page in their strained relationship.

"We want to assure our people and the Arab and Islamic world that we have turned a major new and real page in partnership on everything do to with the Palestinian nation," Meshaal said.

"There are no more differences between us now," added Abbas, who heads the Fatah movement. "We have agreed to work as partners with joint responsibility."

It was the first time the two men had held face-to-face talks since they met to sign a reconciliation deal in early May.

Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmed told AFP the talks had focused on terms of the unity agreement and on how it should be implemented.

"All the movements who signed the reconciliation agreement in May will be invited to put the final touches on it and start applying it on the ground, and to move forward towards ending the division, and elections," he told AFP.

They also discussed "the question of a truce in the West Bank and Gaza with Israel, and the question of popular resistance," he said.

Key issues on the agenda were a unified Palestinian strategy, hammering out an interim government, reforming the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and agreeing on a date for elections, officials said.

A new page

After a summer of scepticism over prospects for a real rapprochement between Abbas's secular Fatah movement and its Islamist rival Hamas, a new optimism has emerged in recent weeks.

"President Abbas intends to deploy all possible efforts to reach a global Palestinian agreement and reach an understanding on a common political vision for all the movements," Ahmed said in comments echoed by Hamas officials.

"We want this meeting to open a new page and a new hope for the Palestinian people," Hamas deputy head Mussa Abu Marzuk told AFP on arrival in the Egyptian capital.

Hamas and Fatah, which respectively control the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, have long been political rivals, but tensions spilled over into deadly violence in 2007 with Hamas forces eventually routing their Fatah rivals and taking control of the Gaza Strip.

They signed a surprise agreement in May which called for the immediate formation of an interim government to pave the way for presidential and parliamentary elections within a year.

But it has yet to be implemented with the two sides bickering over the composition of the caretaker government and, in particular, who will head it.

The deal has been criticised by Israel, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday saying he hoped Abbas "would stop the reconciliation process with Hamas".

The accord has also been received with caution in Washington and the European Union, prompting Hamas official Izzat al-Rishq to accuse both of seeking to perpetuate Palestinian political division.

Hamas must recognise Israel

Both Washington and Brussels have said they will not work with a government that includes Hamas unless the Islamists recognise Israel, renounce violence and agree to abide by previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.

"Unfortunately the Americans and Europeans have taken negative positions on the meeting between the brothers Meshaal and Abbas," Rishq said.

"This position is the result of their desire for the continuation of the Palestinian division so they can continue to impose their dictates on the Palestinian people."

On Wednesday, the EU's acting representative to the Palestinian territories said he had "very low expectations" that the meeting would break the deadlock in implementing the unity deal.

"I wouldn't expect much progress right now," John Gatt-Rutter told reporters in Jerusalem, pointing out that Hamas and Fatah were "very far apart" on forming a government, agreeing a date for elections and reforming the PLO.

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, around 200 people gathered to show support for the talks, chanting: "Those who are meeting in Cairo should bring back unity."

Read more on:    plo  |  hamas  |  khaled meshaal  |  mahmoud abbas  |  palestine  |  middle east peace
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