Palestinian talks in Yemen await Hamas response

22/03/2008 - 17:32

SANAA (Reuters) - Reconciliation talks between Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas hinge on Hamas' response to a proposal about the future of the Gaza Strip, the Yemeni foreign minister said on Saturday.

Under the draft agreement from the Yemen-sponsored talks,Hamas and Fatah would agree to hold direct negotiations inearly April about a Yemeni plan calling for the situation inthe Gaza Strip to return to the way it was before Hamas took itover.

The issue has been a main point of contention, with Fatahdemanding that Hamas Islamists give up control of theterritory, which the group seized in June after routing Fatahforces.

"A final formula was reached and Fatah agreed to it ... Ourbrothers in the Hamas movement asked for an opportunity toconsult their (leadership)," Foreign Minister Abubakr al-Qirbitold reporters.

A Hamas official said: "The main stumbling block is Fatah'sinsistence that Hamas cease its control of the Gaza Strip."

The Palestinian ambassador to Yemen, named by theFatah-dominated Palestinian Authority, said Hamas was givenuntil late Saturday to respond.

"The Yemenis have proposed a final version afterconsultation with (both Palestinian) delegations. Hamas askedfor time for further consultations. The Yemenis gave them onlyuntil tonight," Ahmad Deek told Reuters by telephone,confirming that the Fatah team had accepted the plan.

The plan also envisages Palestinian elections, the creationof another unity government and a rebuilding of Palestiniansecurity forces along national rather than factional lines.

In Gaza, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh expressed hope thetalks would succeed.

"The talks have gone a good distance but there are someissues that need more discussions ... The Yemeni initiative isan agenda for dialogue and not items for immediateimplementation. I hope the dialogue will reach a positiveresult," Haniyeh said.

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.

(Reporting by Mohamed Sudam; Additional reporting by Nidalal-Mughrabi in Gaza and Wafa Amr in Ramallah; Writing by FirouzSedarat)

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