SANAA – Rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah signed a Yemeni-brokered reconciliation deal on Sunday, March 23, to open their first direct talks since Hamas’ takeover of the Gaza Strip.
"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," said the Sanaa Declaration cited by Reuters.
The initiative calls for a return to the status quo that existed in Gaza before Hamas routed security forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last June.
It calls for the restoration of the national unity government in power before the Hamas’ takeover and for early elections.
The text, signed by Fatah parliamentary leader Azzam al-Ahmed and Hamas number two Mussa Abu Marzuk, said the dialogue aims to "reconfirm the unity of the Palestinian homeland in terms of its land, people and the Palestinian Authority."
Tensions between Fatah and Hamas have mounted since Hamas swept parliamentary polls in January 2006.
The feud worsened amid a Western aid boycott of the Hamas-led government and boiled over into bloody fighting in December 2006.
The two groups agreed to share power in a Saudi-brokered deal in February 2007, with a coalition cabinet installed a month later.
But mutual distrust meant the cohabitation did not last long with the two groups engaging in bloody fighting that led to Hamas’ takeover and Abbas’s sacking of the unity government headed by Hamas leader Ismail Haniya.
The deal paves the way for the first direct talks between the two groups since June 2006.
"We regard the signing of the Sanaa Declaration as a new beginning and the start of a new stage," said Abu Marzouk.
A senior Hamas official said talks between the groups would begin on April 5 with the first round being held in the Palestinian territories.
"We look towards implementing the Yemeni initiative and fostering Palestinian national unity," said Fatah’s al-Ahmed.
But in the Palestinian territories, the two groups were at odds over the meaning of the deal.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the reconciliation deal was a framework for dialogue between the two groups.
"The dialogue will focus on the Palestinian situation, and not only in Gaza," he told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
But Fatah disgreed.
"The relaunch of a dialogue in the future depends on the implementation of the Yemeni initiative on every point, and not on treating it as a framework for dialogue because that will not lead to any result," said Abbas’s spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina.
A senior Israeli official told AFP that he was "extremely skeptical" about the agreement.
"In my opinion, the discussions will last a long time and will fail because each side will stick to their original positions, which are contradictory."
(IslamOnline.net and agencies)