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(photo credit: AP [file])
A lasting truce and reconstruction in the devastated Gaza Strip will only come once the rival Hamas and Fatah factions reconcile, a Palestinian negotiator said Monday.
Saleh Rafaat, a member of the PLO executive committee, spoke in Cairo shortly after the first official meeting between the two Palestinian factions since Hamas threw Fatah out of Gaza in a violent June 2007 coup.
"In order to end the division a national consensus government should be formed to carry out (distribution of) aids to our people, the reconstruction and supervision of the crossings," said Rafaat, who is part of a small Fatah-allied Palestinian group.
Egypt has been presiding over an effort to build a lasting truce in the Gaza Strip, hosting delegations from Israel and the many Palestinian factions.
A Hamas delegation met with Egyptian intelligence head Omar Suleiman Sunday and then the next day had its unannounced and unprecedented meeting with the newly arrived Fatah delegation led by Azzam al-Ahmed.
"It was a consultative meeting we initiated in order to break the ice and restart the dialogue. He will consult (with his leadership) and I will also (consult with mine)," said al-Ahmed at the press conference, adding that he met with Gaza-based Hamas leader Jamal Abu Hashem.
The bitter battle between the two factions has weakened the Palestinians, and has hindered reconstruction plans following Operation Cast Lead, as Israel, the US and the EU all consider Hamas to be a terrorist organization and refuse to funnel reconstruction money to it.
"Any agreement should end this division, otherwise the international community will not talk to us," noted al-Ahmed.
For its part, Hamas has not expressed any urgency about the issue of reconciliation and suggested that a truce and agreement over reopening the border crossings should take place first.
On Sunday, Hamas negotiator Ayman al-Taha said the group was ready to offer Israel a yearlong truce if the border crossings were reopened.
A Fatah official familiar with the negotiations said that the Egyptians are losing patience with Hamas and its continuing hardline stance toward the truce and reconciliation.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said Egypt wants an agreement by Feb. 5, ahead of Israeli elections and a planned, Egyptian-hosted, reconstruction conference.
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry said Monday that Egypt will host the conference at the end of February and expected international representation at the ministerial level.
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