Albert Aji
The Associated Press
October 11, 2008 - 8:00pm

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Sunday the rift between his mainstream Palestinian faction and archrival Hamas must end. The Hamas leader, meanwhile, said the time is right for reconciliation.

Fatah and Hamas have been at odds since the latter's violent takeover of the Gaza Strip in June 2007. Following the takeover, Abbas dissolved the Hamas-led government from his base in the West Bank and formed a new administration excluding the more radical group.

Abbas was in the Syrian capital for a two-day visit to brief the Syrian leadership, which holds enormous sway with Damascus-based Palestinian groups including Hamas, on Palestinian reconciliation efforts.

"No one is happy to see the current divisions continuing," Abbas told reporters in Damascus following a meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad. "No one would ever respect us if we go on," he added.

He said upon his arrival in Syria Saturday that Egyptian mediation had reached an advanced stage. He said there will be a declaration in Cairo followed by a meeting with all Palestinian factions, but did not give details.

Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal seemed to echo those views Sunday. "We have reached a formula (for reconciliation) and we ask God to give it success," he said in Doha, Qatar.

He suggested that Fatah and Hamas release all political prisoners in Gaza and the West Bank and halt media campaigns meant to undermine each other to provide a "positive atmosphere" for Palestinian reconciliation.

Mashaal, who accused the United States of obstructing past efforts at reconciliation, said the time is now right because the Americans and Israelis were busy with internal problems. "This is an opportunity God has given us," he said.

Despite the apparent progress made in Egypt, Abbas had no plans to meet with Hamas officials during his Syria visit.


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