Mashaal claims progress in unity talks

Mashaal claims progress

Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal on Sunday claimed significant progress in talks aimed at reconciling his group with Fatah. Mashaal, who is based in Syria, said that negotiations mediated by Egypt had made "big strides," but he did not elaborate, saying only that the talks had reached the "final stages." Mashaal spoke after a meeting in Saudi Arabia with Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal. "The problem is the completion of the (Egyptian) paper ... so it can satisfy everybody's demands," Mashaal said. He explained that Hamas still had reservations over the latest Egyptian proposal, which called for presidential and legislative elections in the first half of this year as well as a reorganization of the security forces under the authority of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas and seven other radical, Damascus-based Palestinian factions have rejected the proposal because it does not state that Palestinians have the right to keep fighting Israel. Fatah, which favors negotiations with Israel, has accepted the Egyptian plan. Reuters later quoted the Hamas leader as saying that the Islamist group still had some matters to "iron out" in the Egyptian proposal. "We all agree that the signing of the [reconciliation] will take place in Cairo," he was quoted as saying. The rival factions have been split since Hamas violently took control of the Gaza Strip in 2006. In his Saudi statement, Mashaal also blamed Israel for a delay in indirect negotiations to exchange hundreds of Palestinian prisoners for captured IDF soldier Sgt. Gilad Schalit. Schalit has been in the custody of Palestinian terrorists since 2006. "We are still following the negotiations through the German mediator," he said. "The Israeli position keeps changing. They take one step forward and two back."