'Unity with PA tied to prisoner release'

Hamas: "Inconceivable" that negotiations be held in Cairo while hundreds continue to sit in PA jails.

Bardaweel 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Bardaweel 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Hamas said on Sunday that reconciliation talks with Fatah would not succeed unless the Palestinian Authority releases hundreds of Hamas supporters who are being held without trial in its West Bank jails. The announcement came after the Egyptians invited representatives of Hamas and Fatah to meet in Cairo on February 24 for talks aimed at ending the ongoing power struggle between the two parties. The Egyptians are hoping the talks will lead to the establishment of a Hamas-Fatah unity government. A PA official told The Jerusalem Post over the weekend that the new US administration has given a green light for holding the reconciliation talks. He pointed out that the previous US administration had been totally opposed to such talks. A Hamas official said his movement does not believe that the talks could lead to positive results as long as more than 600 Hamas supporters remained in PA prisons. Last November the Egyptians were forced to call off a similar gathering in Cairo after Hamas said it would boycott the talks because of the PA's refusal to release "political prisoners." Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman in the Gaza Strip, said the release of the prisoners was an "important precondition for holding the dialogue with Fatah and ensuring its success." He said that it was "inconceivable" that the reconciliation talks be held in the Egyptians capital while hundreds of Palestinians were continuing to sit in PA jails controlled by Fatah-dominated security forces. Barhoum said that detention centers belonging to the PA's Preventative Security Service and General Intelligence have become "slaughterhouses" where detainees are brutally tortured. He noted that two men have died in these detention centers over the past year as a result of torture. One of the victims, Muhammad Haj, died in a prison cell in Jenin earlier this month. The PA said he committed suicide by hanging himself. "Hamas has never been against national dialogue," said a statement issued by the movement's political leadership in the Gaza Strip. "But to guarantee the success of the talks, we need to create an appropriate atmosphere." Hamas legislator and negotiator Salah Bardaweel said that Hamas was going to the reconciliation talks "with an open heart." He said that he and other Hamas leaders had already been holding contacts with Fatah representatives about the release of prisoners in the West Bank. Bardaweel did not say whether Hamas would boycott the upcoming Cairo talks if the PA failed to release the prisoners. However, he pointed out that the talks would fail if the two parties did not take steps to create a better atmosphere. Hamas also expressed opposition to the participation of some Fatah operatives in the talks. Taher a-Nunu, a spokesman for the Hamas government, said his movement would boycott the talks if figures such as Muhammad Dahlan or his friend Samir Mashharawi. Azzam al-Ahmed, a senior Fatah official in Ramallah, said the PA was planning to release a number of Hamas supporters from prison before the talks. He said that PA President Mahmoud Abbas has formed a security committee to look into the cases of political prisoners being held in West Bank jails. "The last few days have witnessed rapprochement between Hamas and Fatah," said Ahmed, who is a member of the Fatah delegation to the talks with Hamas. "We have released a detainee, while Hamas has lifted the house-arrests and travel restrictions that were imposed on many Fatah members," he added. The Fatah delegation to the talks will be headed by former PA prime minister and top Fatah official Ahmed Qurei.