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Palestinian government, Hamas to talk soon
Updated: 2005-07-04 11:06

Talks with Hamas and Islamic Jihad on setting up a "national unity" government will begin this week, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia said Sunday.

The invitation to the Islamic groups is part of an effort by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to co-opt them instead of disarming them as Israel and the U.S. have demanded. Abbas rejects armed confrontations with the militants, fearing civil war.

Abbas will meet with the leaders of the Islamic groups in Damascus this week, Qureia told reporters. Qureia said he will meet the local leadership in the Gaza Strip next week.

"We are very serious about our call for a national unity government, and we will begin dialogue with our brothers in the Palestinian factions in this regard," Qureia said. "We call upon everyone to join the national unity government and to participate directly in decision making."

Hamas and Islamic Jihad are responsible for dozens of deadly suicide bombings during more than 4 1/2 years of Palestinian-Israeli violence. Incidents of violence have dropped dramatically since declaration of a cease-fire in February by Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Israel objects to Hamas participation in the Palestinian government before the Islamic militants lay down their arms.

Abbas' overtures to the Islamic groups come as Hamas' popularity has risen in the Palestinian street. In three rounds of local elections in recent months, Hamas made strong showings.

Abbas last month announced the postponement of legislative elections, widely seen as an attempt to give his struggling Fatah party time to fend off the growing challenge from Hamas, which will be participating in parliamentary elections for the first time.

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