Hamas chief in Cairo for talks on Shalit and unity deal | world | Hindustan Times
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Hamas chief in Cairo for talks on Shalit and unity deal

world Updated: Sep 04, 2009 16:53 IST

AFP
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Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal will arrive in Cairo on Saturday for talks on Palestinian unity and on a prisoner exchange with Israel, Palestinian and Egyptian officials said on Friday.

Meshaal’s trip will coincide with a visit by his rival, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, who will meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Egypt is brokering unity talks between the Islamist movement and Abbas’s Fatah party, but senior Fatah official Nabil Shaath ruled out a meeting between Meshaal and Abbas in Cairo.

Abbas “would like to see Meshaal once the agreement has been closed or about to close. He has decided not to meet him until then,” Shaath said.

The two groups have been bitterly divided since Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007, routing Abbas’s Fatah from the enclave.

Meshaal’s talks with Omar Suleiman, Egypt’s intelligence chief and pointman in the reconciliation talks, are likely to focus on a deal to exchange a captured Israeli soldier in Gaza for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.

Israel refuses to lift its blockade of Gaza, imposed after Hamas seized power there, until the release of sergeant Gilad Shalit, captured in a cross-border raid in 2006.

Hamas and Israel fought a devastating war in Gaza over the New Year, which ended with separate ceasefires, but the two failed to agree on a truce after Israel said Shalit should first be released.

Hamas and Egyptian officials downplayed reports of a breakthrough in the talks, which would release Palestinian militants convicted of attacks against Israelis, ahead of Meshaal’s visit.

Palestinian unification and achieving a stable truce in Gaza have become more urgent as US President Barack Obama pushes for a lasting peace in the region.