Agence France Presse (AFP)
October 21, 2008 - 8:00pm

Hamas gave its tentative support Tuesday to an Egyptian plan to reconcile the Islamist movement and the rival Fatah faction of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas amid a looming constitutional crisis. "We will agree to the draft of the agreement and will not reject it," Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum told AFP, but he added that the plan would require some "modification" before it could be implemented.

"The draft contains positive elements, but also has some points that need modification and some points that need clarification from the Egyptian leadership," he said.

The two main Palestinian movements have been bitterly divided since Hamas drove Abbas's security forces from the Gaza Strip in a week of fierce street clashes in June 2007, cleaving the territories into hostile rival camps after reports that Fatah was planning a coup.

Representatives from both sides have been invited to meet in Cairo on November 9 to discuss the Egyptian plan, which is aimed at restoring unity amid a looming constitutional crisis that threatens to deepen the rift.

Hamas has said that Abbas - who was elected in January 2005 - will cease to be president when his constitutionally mandated four-year term ends in January and that a new presidential election will have to be held.

Abbas loyalists, citing a separate clause in the constitution, say that presidential and parliamentary elections must be held at the same time, which would extend his term to 2010.

The Egyptian plan includes Abbas' proposal for forming a "national consensus government" to lift the international blockade of Gaza and prepare for presidential and parliamentary elections.

The plan also calls for the rehabilitation of independent Palestinian security forces with assistance from Arab states and the incorporation of Hamas and the hard-line Islamic Jihad into the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) headed by Abbas, which is responsible for negotiations with Israel.

Azzam al-Ahmed, who heads the Fatah parliamentary bloc, called the plan a "good foundation for an agreement and for ending Palestinian divisions".

At the same time he criticized the "skeptical language" coming from Hamas, saying it did not bode well for the talks.

Eleven other factions have also agreed to the plan.

A spokesman for Islamic Jihad said his movement had some "reservations" about some points in the plan but that it supported the overall initiative.

Israel and the West have embraced Abbas a but continue to blacklist Hamas as a terror group despite its convincing victory in 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections.

In the past the European Union and the United States have joined Israel in boycotting Palestinian governments that include Hamas, raising fears that full Palestinian reconciliation could lead to renewed international sanctions.


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