DAMASCUS, Syria - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the exiled chief of
the rival Hamas faction failed Sunday night to resolve their differences over
forming a unity government, dashing hopes for a quick end to deadly clashes
between their supporters.
But Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled
Mashaal said in a statement that they "achieved major progress" during the
meeting - their first since July 2005 - and hoped to resume talks
within two weeks.
Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas shakes
hands with Khaled Mashaal, political leader of Hamas at a meeting in
Damascus on Sunday Jan. 21, 2007. [AP]
"There are still points of disagreement, but we will try to resolve them
through a national dialogue until we form a national unity government," Mashaal
said during a joint news conference with Abbas in the Syrian capital, Damascus.
The two sides stressed that recent Palestinian fighting, which has killed at
least 62 people, was unacceptable and pledged to exert efforts to avoid
"Palestinian bloodshed was considered totally prohibited, and we must exert
all efforts to avoid frictions and internal clashes," Abbas said.
The two men originally had been scheduled to meet Saturday evening, but that
session was canceled and officials from both sides had cautioned against
expectations the Sunday meeting might yield immediate results.
Both sides said differences remained, without providing details. The
thorniest issues have been control of the two factions' security forces and
Hamas' refusal to recognize Israel or commit to previous accords signed between
Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
An official of Abbas' Fatah party in the Gaza Strip was optimistic about the
meeting, saying Abbas and Mashaal agreed to let an independent run the Interior
Ministry, though they did not agree on who specifically should lead the powerful
"I think some things were accomplished. Some issues were resolved and others
remain problematic. That would need continuation of dialogue here in Gaza and
mediation in Damascus," said Abdel Hakim Awad, Fatah's spokesman in Gaza.
He said differences also remained over how the official document laying out
the new government would be worded.
The deputy head of Hamas' political bureau, Moussa Abu
Marzouk, who attended some of Sunday's talks, said the one sticking point were
the conditions under which Abbas would name a new prime minister for the unity
espite the lack of agreement, he said the meeting "will send a message to
the Palestinian people that the two sides are committed to continue dialogue."
Hamas, which controls the Palestinian parliament and Cabinet, and Abbas' more
moderate Fatah movement have been stuck in political deadlock since Hamas'
victory in legislative elections last year. Abbas, who is widely seen as a
moderate, was elected president separately.
The refusal of the Islamic militants in Hamas to
recognize Israel's right to exist led to Western sanctions that have paralyzed
the Palestinian economy.