Hamas, Fatah said close to deal on 'unity' government

Representatives of Fatah and Hamas on Sunday launched marathon talks in an attempt to reach an agreement over a document drafted by some Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails. The two sides expressed hope that an agreement would be reached within the next 48 hours. The talks come amid reports that Hamas has agreed to the formation of a new government that would consist largely of independent figures. The move is designed to avert civil war among the Palestinians and to persuade the US and EU to resume financial aid to the Palestinian Authority. Hamas and Fatah leaders who met in Gaza City said the impending agreement would pave the way for the establishment of a "national unity government" comprising representatives of various Palestinian factions. The agreement, however, does not include an explicit recognition of Israel's right to exist. Rouhi Fatouh, a senior Fatah official and a close aide to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, said Fatah and Hamas had reached an agreement over 15 of the 18 points appearing in the prisoners' document. "We're continuing our discussions about the remaining three points," he said. "We're hoping to conclude the talks by Tuesday morning." The problematic points are related to the status of the PLO, the future of "armed resistance" against Israel and accepting UN and Arab resolutions regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hamas has refused to recognize the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians. It is also opposed to the document's call for restricting armed attacks against Israelis to the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem and for accepting all UN and Arab resolutions and peace initiatives. Jamil Majdalawi, a representative of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, one of the factions participating in the "national dialogue," said both Hamas and Fatah were close to reaching an agreement over the controversial points. "They have both agreed on the essence of these issues," he said. "Now it's only a matter of how they formulate the agreement." Majdalawi said the agreement, which may be signed this week, calls for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital on all the territories that were captured by Israel in 1967. The agreement, he added, will emphasize the right of return for all refugees and the right to "resist the occupation." Osama Mazini, a senior Hamas official in the Gaza Strip, said he did not rule out the possibility that Abbas and his Fatah party would agree to make some changes in the three disputed points, adding that such a move would pave the way for signing an agreement as early as Tuesday. He said that Hamas supported the idea of establishing a national unity government. Sources close to Fatah and Hamas said the agreement calls for canceling a referendum over the prisoners' document in return for the establishment of a new government that would be headed by Nablus businessman Munib al-Masri. They said that under the terms of the agreement, the new government, which would consist of independent figures, would be approved by the Hamas-dominated Palestinian Legislative Council. The new government would be responsible for running the day-to-day affairs of the PA, while Abbas would be in charge of peace talks with Israel. Yasser Abed Rabbo, a member of the PLO executive committee and an adviser to Abbas, said on Sunday that efforts were under way to form a new government headed by an independent figure. He said that despite the talk about an impending agreement between Fatah and Hamas, preparations would continue to hold the referendum next month. "We want an independent government that would deal only with domestic issues," he said. "As for the political issues, they will be under the jurisdiction of the president and the PLO." In another sign of the apparent rapprochement between Hamas and Fatah, the two parties reached an agreement on Sunday over a number of security-related issues. The agreement was reached during a meeting in Gaza City between Haniyeh and Interior Minister Said Siam and former security chief Muhammad Dahlan. The agreement calls for merging Hamas's new "backup" security force to the PA security forces and for ending daily clashes between Hamas and Fatah militiamen in the Gaza Strip. Hamas's force comprises more than 3,000 members of the movement's armed wing, Izaddin al-Kassam.