June 9, 2008 - 4:16pm

DAKAR, Senegal (Reuters) — The Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas met in Senegal over the weekend for talks aimed at bridging the violent rift between the groups.

The two sides released a joint statement on Sunday saying that the meetings had restored “an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect,” though there were no details about progress on specific issues.

The president of Senegal, Abdoulaye Wade, who is also the chairman of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, offered in March to mediate between the factions, which clashed a year ago when Hamas wrested power from Fatah in Gaza.

A statement after the talks, which began on Friday, said that Senegal would maintain contact with both sides to organize future negotiations with the aim of “reconciling the Palestinian family.”

The statement said that both sides “thank the mediator for managing to restore an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect, which allowed them to discuss the fundamental interests of the Palestinian people.”

Senegal’s state news agency, A.P.S., reported Saturday that Mr. Wade had met individually with the Palestinian delegations.

Hamas ended more than 40 years of unchallenged leadership by Fatah, the more secular faction, with a victory in a parliamentary election in 2006. Hamas fighters went on to rout Fatah forces and take over Gaza last June.

After that, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, declared the Hamas government invalid and appointed a new prime minister and Parliament based in the West Bank. Low-level violence has continued sporadically between the groups.


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