Khaled Abu Toameh
The Jerusalem Post
October 15, 2008 - 8:00pm

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has turned down an Egyptian proposal to hold separate talks with Hamas officials in Cairo before the end of the month, a senior PA official in Ramallah said Wednesday.

Abbas's decision drew sharp criticism from Hamas, which said this provided further evidence that the PA president and his Fatah faction were not really interested in ending the power struggle between the two parties.

The Egyptians were hoping to host Fatah-Hamas negotiations in Cairo ahead of a "national reconciliation" conference that would bring together at least 12 Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Fatah. The conference is scheduled to be held in the Egyptian capital sometime next month.

Earlier this week, Hamas informed the Egyptians that the movement supported the idea of holding separate talks with Fatah to prepare for the planned conference.

Nabil Amr, the PA ambassador to Cairo who is closely associated with Abbas, confirmed that Fatah has rejected the proposal to hold bilateral talks with Hamas in Cairo. He said he delivered a message from Abbas to the Egyptian leadership explaining the decision to stay away from the talks.

"President Abbas insists that the negotiations must include all the Palestinian factions," Amr said. "At this stage there is no reason for holding separate meetings [between Fatah and Hamas]."

Abdallah Abu Samhadaneh, a senior Fatah official who has been involved in the negotiations with the Egyptians, said Fatah would agree to meet with Hamas only if the movement ceded control over the Gaza Strip and agreed to the formation of a "national unity government."

Asked what Fatah was expecting from Hamas, he said: "We want them to understand that they can be partners and not an alternative [to the Palestinian Authority]."

The PA official told The Jerusalem Post that Hamas was "not serious" about ending the crisis. "From what we understand from the Egyptians, Hamas is behaving as if it were the Palestinian Authority," he said. "They want to control everything - the PLO, the security forces and the parliament."

He said that Abbas also rejected an Egyptian proposal to form joint committees with Hamas to solve a number of issues ahead of the planned parley in Cairo. These issues include: Abbas's term in office, the status of the PA security forces and reforming the PLO.

The official pointed out that the Hamas remained opposed to extending Abbas's term beyond January 9, 2008. "This is also a big issue," he added. "They want to take over the presidency as well."

Hamas accused Abbas and Fatah of working toward undermining the Egyptian mediation efforts.

Hamas legislator Salah Bardaweel said that Abbas's refusal to hold separate talks with Hamas was a sign of his "bad intentions." He added that Fatah's actions on the ground also showed that the faction was seeking to sabotage the reconciliation efforts. "They are continuing to carry out daily arrests [of Hamas members] in the West Bank," he noted. "They are also continuing with their smear campaign against Hamas in the media."


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