GAZA - Hamas has begun a training program for diplomats in the Gaza Strip where it rules, a senior official of the Islamist group said, raising the specter of divisions in the Palestinian national movement spreading to its representation abroad.

Hamas seized Gaza in a 2007 civil war with the Western-backed Fatah party that long dominated Palestinian politics and now rules parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. But Hamas has hitherto not challenged the Palestine Liberation Organization, dominated by Fatah and recognized by the United Nations as the Palestinians' sole representative abroad for almost 40 years.

It may be time to end that diplomatic monopoly, Hamas deputy foreign minister Ghazi Hamad suggested on Wednesday.

"We have relations with some countries and we need to prepare our cadres and develop the diplomatic skills of staff to deal with those countries on joint projects," he told Reuters.

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