By KHALED ABU TOAMEH
Egypt has decided to invite representatives of all Palestinian factions to a "national unity dialogue" conference that would take place in Cairo next month and would lead to the signing of a reconciliation accord between Hamas and Fatah, Palestinian officials in Ramallah said on Tuesday.
They said the decision to convene the conference in Cairo follows the breakthrough achieved in the past few weeks in efforts to end the rift between Hamas and Fatah.
The officials said Hamas and Fatah representatives were expected to head to Cairo shortly for talks aimed at preparing for the gathering, which is likely to be held in mid-October.
Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, who held talks over the past two days with Egyptian officials in Cairo regarding a plan to end the crisis, confirmed that Egypt was planning to hold a "reconciliation conference" next month.
Before leaving Cairo, Mashaal told reporters that during his talks with the officials, he had reiterated Hamas's readiness and commitment to sign a reconciliation accord with Fatah.
Mashaal predicted that the conference would be followed by a signed agreement between the two factions. He said the preferred date for signing such an agreement was October 18.
October was chosen "because it was the month when Egypt defeated Israel in the 1973 war," Mashaal explained, adding that although Hamas had some reservations about the Egyptian plan for achieving Palestinian unity, he and his movement had welcomed it from day one.
"We consider this initiative to be a good basis for achieving national unity," Mashaal said, shortly after meeting with Egyptian General Intelligence Service chief Omar Suleiman.
Mashaal said Hamas and Fatah were very close to reaching agreement on most of the points mentioned in the initiative, including holding new presidential and parliamentary elections sometime in the first half of 2010, reconstructing the Palestinian security forces and organizing the release of "political" detainees on both sides.
"We extend our hands and open our hearts to all Palestinian factions and to Fatah," he said. "We are ready to open a new chapter in our relations. We must be united, because our real battle is with the Zionist enemy, which is waging a fierce war against us."
The Hamas leader urged the Palestinian Authority to stop all forms of security coordination with Israel and "return to the resistance option."
Mashaal's remarks and reports about an apparent breakthrough in the Egyptian mediation efforts drew contradictory statements from Fatah.
Some Fatah officials welcomed the apparent breakthrough, while others accused Mashaal of trying to mislead the Palestinians by talking about progress.
"Fatah welcomes Mashaal's conciliatory approach, and we reach our hands out to anyone who wants unity and an end to schism," said Jibril Rajoub, a member of the Fatah Central Committee. "Fatah has also accepted the Egyptian initiative."
However, Azzam al-Ahmad, a senior Fatah official closely affiliated with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, played down Mashaal's statements and accused him of "tampering" with the Egyptian ideas.
"There's nothing new with Mashaal's misleading statements," he charged. "He's simply playing around with words."
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