March 31, 2009 - 12:00am

There is a strong chance talks resuming this week can help heal a rift between the Hamas group and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah movement, a senior Hamas leader said on Sunday.

"We stress our interest in reaching an agreement to end the internal Palestinian division under Arab and Egyptian sponsorship," Ismail Haniyeh said on Hamas television in the Gaza Strip before an Arab summit convening in Qatar on Monday.

Egyptian-sponsored talks aimed at forging a possible unity government that could end a Western blockade on aid to rebuild the battered Gaza Strip were expected to be an important item on the agenda at the two-day Arab League session.

Talks between the Western-backed Abbas's faction, which controls the West Bank, and Hamas, which seized Gaza in 2007, were expected to resume tomorrow after adjourning on March 19 without a deal on how to share power or engage Israel.

"There is a strong chance for the Palestinian national dialogue to succeed for the Palestinian national reconciliation to be achieved," said Haniyeh, whose group did not attend yesterday's summit.

Haniyeh said differences with Abbas over policy toward Israel could be bridged by pledging to "respect" past agreements with the Jewish state, wording that has in the past fallen short of Western demands any Palestinian government recognise Israel.

Hamas won a parliamentary election in 2006 but has been boycotted by the West for its charter calling for Israel's destruction and to supplant it with an Islamist Palestinian state. Hamas has also proposed a long-term truce, a bid that fell short of recognising the Jewish state.

Ahmad Qurie, head of the Fatah delegation to the talks, said last week he was "exerting every possible effort... in order to reach agreement" with Hamas.

Prime Minister Salam Fayyad of Fatah has offered to step down this month so a unity government can be formed but Abbas has asked him to stay on until the talks have yielded results.


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