Abbas and Mashaal meet in Egypt

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April 28, 2007 00:14

First meeting since creation of coalition gov't; discuss cease-fire with Israel.

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The Palestinian Authority Chairman and the political leader of Hamas held a rare meeting Friday in the Egyptian capital - their first since Fatah and Hamas formed a coalition government, officials from both camps said. PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas' supreme leader, Khaled Mashaal, were to discuss the troubled cease-fire with Israel, international sanctions against the Palestinians, the PLO restructuring in which Hamas wants a part, as well as other issues facing the recently formed government. Neither side commented on their discussion after the conclusion of the meeting. According to Saeb Erekat, a top aide to Abbas, also on the agenda would be the fate of Israeli kidnapped soldier Cpl. Gilad Schalit. Egypt has tried to negotiate Schalit's release for months and has blamed Hamas for failing to conclude the deal. Israeli Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who visited Cairo in October, said his government had accepted Egypt's conditions for a prisoner swap and blamed Mashaal for the failure to conclude the deal. Hamas' representative in Lebanon, Osama Hamdan, said the meeting would also consider a "restructuring" of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. The umbrella group - which is separate from the newly formed Fatah-Hamas government - is the sole party authorized to conduct negotiations with Israel. Since the coalition government was approved in March, Hamas has been pressing to acquire the post of deputy chairman of the PLO, apparently jostling for more influence in talks with Israel. The meeting Friday was also to discuss Abbas' seven-nation tour of European Union countries this month - his latest attempt to persuade Europe to end the aid cutoff and fully resume dealings with Palestinian government. During Friday prayers, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas said that the "Palestinians are waiting for a strong, clear movement from the Europeans that reflects the choices of the Palestinian people." Haniyeh added that a continued embargo could undermine the unity government. "The international community must lift the embargo on the Palestinian people ... otherwise the issue will be reconsidered," he said. Aid has continued to reach Palestinians through non-governmental organizations and other means of bypassing the government. The new Palestinian government says it needs €1 billion in international support "to get back on its feet." But the EU, which has been a major donor, says Hamas must recognize Israel first and commit to past agreements before aid is fully restored. The Abbas-Mashaal meeting came amid an escalation in Palestinian-Israeli tensions following a barrage of rockets fired by Hamas earlier in the week threatening a five-month cease-fire. Egyptian officials were concerned the firing of the rockets could sabotage their mediation efforts. "Launching rockets is negative and leads nowhere," said Col. Burhan Hamad, head of an Egyptian security delegation.


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