The Daily Star
February 19, 2009 - 1:00am

The Egyptian state news agency MENA quoted a senior Egyptian official as saying on Wednesday that Cairo-brokered talks aimed at reconciling feuding Palestinian factions have been delayed. "Palestinian reconciliation talks scheduled for February 22 have been delayed for a short period because more discussions are needed," the unidentified official said.

The talks are part of an Egyptian-proposed plan to end Israel's massive three-week offensive against the Gaza Strip in December and January that killed more than 1,300 Palestinians, two-thirds of whom the UN said were civilians.

Meanwhile, an inquiry report released on Wednesday found that a member of the Hamas movement found hanged when in custody in the Occupied West Bank city of Jenin this month had committed suicide.

"In the light of the investigation by the public prosecutor ... we found that the death ... was of his own making," the report concluded. "There is no criminal suspicion."

The report was published by the official WAFA news agency after being delivered to President Mahmoud Abbas. His secular Fatah faction controls the Occupied West Bank and it was accused by rival Hamas of murdering 30-year-old Mohammad Adbel-Jamil al-Hajj.

Hajj's family said they viewed the report with skepticism.

A dispute over the finding could complicate efforts to bring Fatah and Hamas representatives together in Cairo.

Hajj was found hanged in his cell on February 9, two days after being detained.

Abbas' Preventive Security Force, which runs the detention facility, said Hajj was jailed for illegal possession of weapons and belonged to an outlawed group. Officials denied he was murdered or tortured, as Hamas and relatives have said.

Hamas and the long-dominant Fatah have been bitterly at odds particularly since Hamas won a parliamentary election in 2006 and drove Fatah forces out of the Gaza Strip the following year. The move by the Islamist followed reports of an impending US-backed offensive by Fatah aimed at ridding Hamas from the coastal enclave.

Each accuses the other of persecuting and killing members of the rival group in the territory it controls, allegations supported by independent human rights monitors.

In late January, relatives of Fatah supporter Osama Atallah and Fatah officials in Gaza accused Hamas of killing several party members, including Atallah, during Israel's 3-week offensive in the enclave.

A Hamas spokesman, Fawzi Barhoum, said last week "the crime of torturing Mohammad al-Hajj to death" would have grave consequences. He said devout Muslims like Hamas members abhorred suicide.

Hajj's brother, Mohayeldeen, questioned the findings: "We don't trust doctors from the Palestinian Authority," he said. "They are under pressure."

He said Abbas' Palestinian Authority (PA) bore responsibility, whatever the cause of death. "Even if he did hang himself, the PA is responsible for this," Mohayeldeen al-Hajj said. - Reuters, AFP


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