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Fatah and Hamas sign reconciliation deal

The rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas sign a deal promising to revive direct talks after months of hostilities, but differences remain over the future of the Gaza Strip.

world Updated: Mar 23, 2008 22:43 IST
Mohamed Sudam

Rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas signed a Yemeni-sponsored deal on Sunday promising to revive direct talks after months of hostilities, but differences remained over the future of the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

The two factions reconvened in Sanaa earlier in the day after the talks, launched last week by Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, came close to collapse several times.

"We, the representatives of Fatah and Hamas, agree to the Yemeni initiative as a framework to resume dialogue between the two movements to return the Palestinian situation to what it was before the Gaza incidents," a declaration issued after the meeting said.

While analysts believe the decision to talk is an important step forward, there are still outstanding issues that could scupper negotiations, and they caution that previous agreements have collapsed.

The Sanaa Declaration, signed by top Hamas negotiator Moussa Abu Marzouk and senior Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmed, also affirmed the "unity of the Palestinian people, territory and authority".

The Yemeni initiative calls for the situation in Gaza to return to the way it was before Hamas seized the area in June after routing Fatah forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The violence left Hamas in control of Gaza and Fatah in control of the West Bank and entrenched divisions as the two movements vied for power and influence among the 4 million Palestinians in the two areas separated by Israel.

Fatah had said it would agree to direct reconciliation talks with Hamas only if the Islamist group first agreed to relinquish its hold on Gaza, home to 1.5 million Palestinians.

A Hamas official said on Saturday the group asked that the same condition should apply to the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority has dismissed a Hamas-led unity government and arrested some Hamas supporters.

Differences remain

Differences over that key clause remained, but Ahmed said he was looking forward to Yemen setting a date for new talks to begin that would hammer out the details of implementation.

"We look towards implementing the Yemeni initiative and fostering Palestinian national unity," he said.

A senior Hamas official said talks would begin on April 5 with the first round being held in the Palestinian territories, but the Palestinian ambassador to Yemen, Ahmad Deek, said Yemen would issue invitations for talks there early next month.

Saleh had been pressing the Palestinians to begin their dialogue in April and said Yemen would ask the Arab Summit in Damascus on March 29-30 to endorse the initiative as a joint Arab plan.

But previous Arab-sponsored efforts to reconcile the Palestinians, including a Saudi-mediated deal reached in the Muslim holy city of Mecca in 2007, have fallen by the wayside.

The Yemeni plan, which calls for a return to the framework accords laid in Mecca, also envisages new Palestinian elections, the creation of another unity government and the reform of security forces along national rather than factional lines.

Abbas dismissed a Palestinian unity government led by Hamas' Ismail Haniyeh and formed under the Mecca accord after the Islamist group seized Gaza in June.

"We regard the signing today of the Sanaa Declaration as a new beginning and the start of a new stage," said Abu Marzouk, whose party won parliamentary elections in January 2006 but had refused to recognize Israel or renounced armed struggle.