(photo credit: AP)
Hamas and Fatah negotiators were summoned to Cairo over the weekend for another round of "reconciliation" talks aimed at ending the differences between the two rival parties.
Representatives of the two sides said that the Egyptian authorities were exerting immense pressure on them to reach an agreement by the end of the month.
Some claimed that the Egyptians had issued an ultimatum to Hamas and Fatah to end their power struggle and sign a unity government accord by July 7.
However, spokesmen of the two sides expressed pessimism regarding the prospects of reaching any deal in the foreseeable future, pointing out that the gap between Hamas and Fatah on many issues remained very wide.
This is the sixth time in recent months that Hamas and Fatah officials have met in Cairo for talks aimed at resolving their dispute.
Hamas legislator and negotiator Salah Bardaweel said his movement would not sign any agreement with Fatah as long as security forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas continued to detain Hamas supporters in the West Bank.
He said that Hamas was also demanding that Abbas release some 700 Hamas supporters who are being held without trial in jails in the West Bank.
"How can we sign an agreement [with Fatah] when the Palestinian security forces are continuing to kidnap hundreds of Palestinians?" Bardaweel asked.
"This issue will be at the top of the agenda of the meetings in Cairo."
The PA said that it released 85 Hamas supporters from its prisons over the weekend as a "goodwill gesture" on the eve of the resumption of the talks with the Islamic movement.
Azzam al-Ahmed, a senior Fatah official closely associated with Abbas, expressed hope that the release of the Hamas supporters would prompt Hamas to reciprocate by freeing Fatah detainees.
He said that Hamas was holding in its prisons in the Gaza Strip over 200 Fatah supporters, some of whom are reported to be in poor health condition.
Fatah officials in Ramallah said that Hamas's security forces have summoned for questioning more than 1,000 Fatah supporters in the past few weeks. Many of those interrogated by Hamas have been severely tortured, they added, charging that they had been beaten with clubs and plastic rods.
According to the officials, Hamas has also banned some 200 Fatah supporters from leaving the Gaza Strip for "security reasons." Fahmi Za'areer, a Fatah spokesman in the West Bank, said that besides the issue of the detainees, the two sides still had to agree on holding new elections, reconstructing the Palestinian security forces and the political agenda of the proposed Hamas-Fatah unity government.
Za'areer also voiced skepticism, saying he did not expect progress as long as Hamas continued to cling on to its "coup mentality" in the Gaza Strip.