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(photo credit: AP [File])
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and senior members of his Fatah party have held "warm and friendly talks" in Tunis with Suha Arafat, the widow of Yasser Arafat, sources close to Abbas and Suha announced on Saturday.
At the meeting, the first of its kind in many years, Abbas and the 43-year-old Suha agreed to end their long-standing dispute. The two, according to PA officials, had not been talking to each other for nearly 10 years.
Suha's Tunis-based office described the meeting as "very warm" and said the two sides stressed the importance of the "national dialogue" that is taking place in the West Bank and Gaza Strip between Fatah and Hamas.
The sulha [reconciliation] took place in Suha's villa in the Tunisian capital, where she has been living since the death of her husband in November 2004.
The meeting, which lasted for about three hours, was attended by old guard Fatah leaders including former PA prime minister Ahmed Qurei, legislator Azzam al-Ahmed and other members of the Fatah central committee.
The meeting, which was not announced in advance of Abbas's visit to Tunis, raised many eyebrows in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, especially among representatives of the young guard in Fatah.
One source in Ramallah said the meeting focused on a "variety of issues" concerning the latest developments in the Palestinian arena in the wake of Hamas's victory in the January 25 parliamentary election. Asked if the talks also dealt with financial issues, the source said: "I don't rule out the possibility that they also talked about this matter, but I don't have enough details at this stage."
Suha, who reportedly received up to $100,000 a month from the PA budget before her husband's death, moved to Paris shortly after violence erupted in the Gaza Strip in September 2000.
She left for Tunis after French prosecutors announced that they had launched an inquiry into the transfer of $9 million into her French bank accounts. The inquiry was launched after information provided by the Bank of France and a government anti-money-laundering body.
Asked then to explain how she received the money, an angry Suha retorted "What's wrong if my husband sends me some money? I'm working here (in Paris) for the benefit of my people." She later accused her husband's close aides of being responsible for corrupt dealings, saying: "Every beautiful flower ends up surrounded by weeds."
When the ailing Arafat was hospitalized in a French Hospital, Suha refused, under French law, to permit Abbas and other Palestinian leaders to visit him, accusing them of seeking to "bury Yasser Arafat alive." She later agreed to allow only Qurei to enter Arafat's room.
Suha's allegations, made in a message to the Palestinians through the pan-Arab Al-Jazeera news network, drew sharp criticism from PA leaders who accused her of insulting her husband's legacy.
Because of the tensions, Suha was advised to stay away from Arafat's funeral in Ramallah. She and her daughter only attended a memorial service in Cairo before flying back to Tunis.
During his visit to Tunis, Abbas also met with estranged PLO leader Farouk Kaddoumi.The two, who have been at odds ever since Abbas succeeded Arafat, agreed to patch up their differences and to work together against the Hamas cabinet.
Kaddoumi, who sees himself as the "Foreign Minister of Palestine," has in the past openly challenged Abbas's right to appoint a PA foreign minister. Kaddoumi is now challenging Hamas's right to name its own foreign minister.
Last week he surprised PA Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar by arriving before him at a meeting of Non-Aligned countries in Malaysia.
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