Palestinian rival leaders hold talks in Egypt

AP News
Posted: Jan 09, 2013 3:23 PM
Palestinian rival leaders hold talks in Egypt

CAIRO (AP) — The Palestinian president and the leader of Hamas held talks Wednesday in a bid to seize on the recent goodwill between their rival factions and reach a long-elusive reconciliation agreement, a senior Palestinian official said.

The meetings between President Mahmoud Abbas and Khaled Mashaal marked the latest attempt by the rival Palestinian leaders to bridge the gap between their groups. But many obstacles remain before the sides can settle their differences, chief among them how to deal with Israel.

Several rounds of reconciliation talks over recent years focused on finding ways to share power have failed to yield results, and the official said no immediate breakthrough was expected in the meetings Wednesday at Abbas' residence in Cairo. Hamas also is not ready since it will hold internal elections to replace Mashaal, the official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.

The official said that Abbas will call upon all Palestinian factions to hold a larger meeting in Cairo at a later date to discuss reconciliation.

The two Palestinian groups have been at odds since the Islamic militant Hamas overran Gaza in 2007, ousting forces from Abbas' Fatah. Since then, Abbas has ruled in the West Bank, and Hamas has held sway in Gaza.

While past efforts to end the split have failed, the two sides have tried to make a show of unity since Hamas' fierce battle with Israel in November and Fatah's subsequent recognition bid at the United Nations.

Earlier in the day, Abbas and Mashaal held talks individually with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. Morsi hails from the Muslim Brotherhood, the fundamentalist Islamist group that is the parent organization of Hamas.

In 2011, Mashaal and Abbas signed a reconciliation agreement, but it was not implemented. According to the deal and subsequent round of talks held in Qatar, the two factions would form a national coalition government of independents to oversee legislative and presidential elections.

The new talks are taking place in a slightly different atmosphere, however, following recent gains by both factions.

Abbas has enjoyed a boost in his status since he led the Palestinians' successful bid to upgrade their status at the United Nations to a non-member observer state.

Hamas, meanwhile, has gained new support among Palestinians following eight days of fighting with Israel in November, during which Israel pounded the seaside strip from the air and sea, while Palestinians militants for the first time lobbed rockets toward Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Following the fighting, Fatah allowed Hamas to hold its first rally in the West Bank since the 2007 split. Hamas returned the favor by allowing Fatah to stage its own rally in Gaza, its first since the Hamas takeover.