Palestinian Rivals in Cairo Unity Talk

Palestinian factions, including rival Fatah and Hamas, launched on Thursday, February 26, long-awaited Egypt-brokered reconciliation talks with an eye on bridging gaps and forming a national unity government.

"They concluded the first day of meeting with an agreement on forming five committees," sources that attended the meeting told the Doha-based Al-Jazeera.

The committees will be tasked with reaching agreements on forming a new government, reforming security agencies, restructuring the PLO, reconciliation and presidential and legislative elections.

"The committee will meet on March 10 and should conclude activities in ten days," said the sources.

The participants also agreed on forming a steering committee that comprises Egypt, the Arab League and leaders of the different factions.

"[There is] real desire on both sides to settle these questions…to achieve reconciliation, as urgent necessity above all because the peace process is not progressing and nor are efforts towards a truce," said Azzam al-Ahmad, the head of Fatah parliamentary bloc.

Fatah and Hamas have been bitterly divided since Hamas seized control of Gaza in June 2007 after driving out forces loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah leader.

An attempt by Egypt to hold a similar conference in November failed because of Abbas’s refusal to free hundreds of Hamas detainees in the West Bank as a good well gesture.

The reconciliation call was renewed by Egypt after Israel’s 22-day war on Gaza that killed more than 1,300 Palestinians and destroyed Gaza’s infrastructure.

Confidence Building

About a dozen Palestinian groups were invited to take part in the national dialogue, whose aim is to set up a unity government.

Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who is mediating the talks, hoped they would be able to bridge their differences.

"We hope this meeting is the real start of a new period ending the state of division," he told the televised opening session.

"We have no option before us but to succeed, and that will not difficult."

Fatah and Hamas, the two main factions, preceded the talks with agreement on confidence-building measures including the release of detainees from both sides and ending a long-running media war.

"A certain number of detainees will be freed right at the beginning of the dialogue," said a statement co-signed by al-Ahmad and Mahmud Zahar, the foreign minister of the Hamas-led Gaza government.

"Other detainees will be freed successively so that this issue will be totally closed before the end of the national Palestinian dialogue."

Al-Ahmed confirmed that Hamas lifted house arrest imposed on several Fatah leaders in Gaza.

As a prove of good faith, Fatah had so far released 80 out of around 400 Hamas members detained in the West Bank, said Zahar, a senior Hamas leader.

A unity government could serve for an interim period, preparing for new presidential and legislative elections and coordinating the rebuilding of Gaza.

The new Obama administration has reportedly signaled to both Egypt and Abbas its readiness to accept a Hamas-Fatah government.

A previous unity agreement fell apart after the US, Israel and their western allies refused to deal with Hamas.
( and Agencies)

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