Hamas plays down chances of Fatah talks

21/03/2008 - 11:41

GAZA (Reuters) - Hamas expressed doubt on Friday that Yemeni-sponsored reconciliation talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's secular Fatah faction would succeed despite an agreement to extend the discussions for an extra day.

At the request of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, therival Palestinian factions agreed to meet on Saturday in alast-ditch push for a breakthrough.

"Fatah is trying to avoid reaching an agreement by allpossible means," said Ayman Taha, a Hamas spokesman in the GazaStrip, which the Islamist group seized in June after routingAbbas's Fatah forces.

Taha said Abbas was not interested in resuming talks withHamas because of "an American veto".

The Yemeni proposal calls for the situation in the GazaStrip to return to the way it was before the Hamas takeover andfor Palestinian elections to be held.

The main point of contention appeared to be Fatah's demand,included in a Yemeni proposal, for Hamas to give up control ofthe Gaza Strip.

The plan also envisages the creation of another unitygovernment and rebuilding of Palestinian security forces alongnational rather than factional lines.

Fatah has said it would agree to direct reconciliationtalks with Hamas only if Hamas first consented to relinquishits hold on the Gaza Strip, home to 1.5 million Palestinians.

Abbas aides said on Thursday that the negotiations hadfailed. But members of the delegation announced later that theywould stay another day at Yemen's request.

When asked if he thought an agreement could be reached,Saleh Rafat, a member of the Palestine LiberationOrganisation's executive committee, said: "I don't think so."

(Reporting Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, Writing by JosephNasr, Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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