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(photo credit: AP [file])
Egyptian moderators want a power-sharing agreement between the various Palestinian factions by Saturday, a participant in the talks in Cairo said on Thursday.
Negotiator Samir Ghosheh, a member of one of the smaller factions, said that he and his colleagues were told by Egypt that they need to produce an agreement by the weekend. An accord is seen as essential for financing reconstruction in Gaza.
However, efforts to achieve reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas faced difficulties on Wednesday as the Islamic movement accused the Palestinian Authority security forces of pursuing their crackdown on its supporters in the West Bank.
In yet another blow to the reconciliation talks between the two parties that began in Cairo this week, Hamas rejected an Egyptian proposal to form a government of independent figures who are not affiliated with any political faction.
A Hamas official revealed that the PA security forces have arrested 38 Palestinians in the West Bank over the past few days on charges of membership in Hamas. He told The Jerusalem Post that the recent arrests were a "severe blow" to Egypt's attempts to end the differences between Hamas and Fatah.
The official pointed out that the PA security forces were holding more than 400 Palestinians in West Bank prisons without trial.
"Most of them are suspected of being supporters or members of Hamas," he said. "How can we talk about reconciliation when [PA President Mahmoud] Abbas's policemen are chasing our men in the West Bank and continuing to carry out security coordination with Israel?"
A Hamas source said some of those arrested in the past few days were Palestinians who had just been released from Israeli prisons. They include Ismail Abdel Karim, Bashar Halaweh, Fadel Baitawi, Saleh Shinar from the Nablus area and Raed Burkan, Hilmi al-Zaru, Sharif Abu Turki and Ibrahim al-Masri from the Hebron area.
Hamas legislator and negotiator Salah Bardaweel said the reconciliation talks in Cairo would fail unless the PA stopped pursuing Hamas supporters and released all the detainees. He also accused Fatah of continuing to wage a "propaganda war" against Hamas and its leaders by publishing "lies and fabrications."
Bardaweel said his movement was opposed to the idea of establishing a government of technocrats rather than a joint Hamas-Fatah coalition. He said that although the proposal did not sound bad, Hamas saw no reason why politicians should not be allowed to be part of a new "unity government."
Fathi Hammad, a member of the Hamas political leadership in the Gaza Strip, predicted that the Cairo talks would fail unless Fatah "liberated itself from American-Israeli hegemony."
If Fatah decides to go with its people and not with the American-Zionist agenda, then there will be an agreement, he said. "But if they choose to remain hostage to the American-Zionist agenda and continue to carry out security coordination with the Israelis, the talks won't be successful."
Hammad said that the ongoing clampdown on Hamas supporters in the West Bank was threatening to ruin the Cairo talks, which are aimed primarily at reaching agreement over the formation of a new Palestinian "unity government."
"One of the conditions for the success of these talks is the release of all political prisoners from Abbas's jails," he stressed. "If they don't release the prisoners, the talks in Cairo will be a waste of time."
Hamas representatives said on Wednesday that they were surprised to hear that Egypt was now proposing that the Palestinians establish a government of independent figures who don't belong to any political faction.
They pointed out the proposal was made on Tuesday by Egyptian General Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman in his opening speech before representatives of the Palestinian factions gathered in Cairo.
Mushir al-Masri, a Hamas legislator and spokesman, said that Hamas, which won a majority of votes in the January 2006 parliamentary election, should have the right to name its candidate for prime minister in the proposed unity government. He reiterated Hamas's strong opposition to the appointment of outgoing PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad as head of the new government, saying Fayad was totally unacceptable to a majority of Palestinians.
A Fatah official said that the two sides agreed during the talks in Cairo to "put an end to the case of political prisoners." He also dismissed reports according to which the two parties had begun discussing the distribution of cabinet portfolios in the proposed "unity government."
The official rejected Hamas's demand that it have a say in naming the prime minister and ministers. He said that Abbas was the only person authorized to appoint a prime minister and his ministers in line with the PA constitution.
AP contributed to this report.