Abbas, Mashaal to meet in Damascus

Fatah, Hamas heads expected to discuss ways of defusing PA factional crisis.

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January 19, 2007 05:13
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Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is scheduled to meet with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in Damascus on Saturday to discuss ways of resolving the ongoing crisis in the PA. Independent Palestinian legislator Ziad Abu Amr, who has been mediating between the two men, said the meeting would focus on efforts to form a PA unity government and to end the violence between Hamas and Fatah. Abu Amr denied reports in the Palestinian media that his recent talks in Damascus with Mashaal had failed. He said Mashaal expressed readiness to meet with Abbas to try to prevent an all-out confrontation between Fatah and Hamas. PA officials in Ramallah said, however, that it was still unclear whether the long-awaited Abbas-Mashaal summit would take place. "As of now we can't confirm that the meeting will take place during President Abbas's visit to Damascus," said an official in his office. "The president will hold talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad and leaders of various Palestinian factions based in Damascus. Also, a meeting with Mashaal has not been ruled out." Another official said that even if the meeting did take place, he did not expect a breakthrough in talks to form a coalition government. "Hamas still hasn't changed its position regarding the proposed unity government," he said. "If anything, the meeting could ease tensions between the two parties, and this is good enough." The war of words between Fatah and Hamas escalated on Thursday, with each side accusing the other of waging a campaign of smears and incitement. Fatah legislator Muhammad Dahlan accused Hamas of spreading lies by publishing a story insinuating he was a collaborator with Israel. Dahlan was referring to a report on the Hamas-run Palestinian Information Center Web site to the effect that the IDF last week launched a campaign of detentions against Hamas activists in Kalkilya on the eve of a visit by Dahlan to the city. "Dahlan had no plans to visit Kalkilya," said a statement issued by his office. "This site has been spreading cheap lies against Dahlan." Meanwhile, Hamas is demanding an apology from the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya TV station following a report that PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh had made derogatory remarks against God. The station reported that its employees in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip received threats from Hamas after the story was broadcast. Haniyeh, according to the report, was quoted by some of his aides as having said: "Hamas will not accept money with conditions even if they come from Allah." Fatah leaders and Web sites have seized the opportunity to depict Haniyeh and Hamas as hypocrites who are not true believers.

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