Abbas, Hamas chief can't agree on gov't

Updated: 2007-01-22 09:35

Abbas has been pushing Hamas for months to form a unity government of independent experts in hopes of ending the sanctions and has threatened to call early elections if the two sides can't agree.

Abbas, Israel and the international community also want Hamas to abide by past agreements signed between Israel and the Palestinians. Hamas has said it would be willing to respect only previous agreements it deems as fair to Palestinians.

Syria hosts the exiled leadership of several Palestinian militant groups, including Mashaal, who has lived in Damascus since 1997, when he survived an Israeli assassination attempt in Jordan.

Sunday's meeting came after intense mediation by Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa, who met separately with Mashaal and Abbas.

Abu Marzouk had earlier said the chance of a sit-down was "nonexistent," but he told The Associated Press that "active and serious mediation" by the Syrians persuaded Abbas and Mashaal to talk.

Abu Marzouk had blamed the moderate Fatah president for the breakdown of talks and hinted Abbas was being pressured by Israel and the US not to meet with Mashaal.

In the Hamas stronghold of Gaza - where tensions between the two factions frequently have exploded into open warfare - Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas played down the significance of the Abbas-Mashaal meeting.

"It is not the meeting of last chances, and if it doesn't yield 100 percent agreements, it doesn't mean that we are heading to a new crisis," he told a gathering Sunday. "The dialogue ... has gone a long way. ... Ninety percent of the issues have been agreed upon. Some issues remain."

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said a single meeting between the two sides had not been expected to solve all outstanding issues, but it overcame some obstacles.

"We consider the meeting itself a positive step. It was a good step to seriously build on to form a national unity government," Barhoum said.

Abbas came to Damascus bolstered by Israel's decision Friday to release $100 million in frozen Palestinian taxes that Israel has refused to turn over to the Hamas-controlled Palestinian government.

Israel said the money would be used by Abbas for humanitarian purposes and to strengthen his security forces.


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