Hamas, Fateh to resume coalition talks

news1_9_3.jpgGAZA CITY (AFP) — The Islamist movement Hamas and defeated Fateh Party postponed until Thursday talks on forming a Palestinian government, amid slim prospects for success after slanging matches between the two sides in parliament.

The talks between the chief of Fateh’s parliamentary bloc, Azzam Ahmed, and his Hamas counterpart, Mahmoud Zahar, were initially to be held Wednesday night, but were put off for “technical reasons,” a Hamas source said.

Ahmed had earlier confirmed to AFP that the second set of talks in two weeks would be to “discuss the forming of a government.”

Hamas Spokesman Salah Bardawil said Ahmed had arrived in Gaza City for what would be the second such meeting in as many weeks.

Bardawil said Hamas representatives were to also meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday. The moderate leader was due to travel from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip late Wednesday.

Abbas is a member of Fateh, which was trounced by Hamas in the January 25 Palestinian general election. On February 21, he formally charged Hamas prime minister-designate Ismail Haniyeh with forming the next government.

Haniyeh has said his movement, blacklisted by the West as a terrorist organisation, would hold consultations with other Palestinian parties, including Fateh, with a view to forming a national coalition.

After a meeting with Zahar on February 22, Ahmed said Fateh had accepted “in principle” to join a Hamas-led coalition as long as there was agreement on a common programme.

Several Fateh officials oppose, however, any participation in the new government.

The talks between Ahmed and Zahar were to come three days after a heated first working session of the new Hamas-dominated parliament, when the chamber repealed a series of measures passed by the outgoing Fateh-led house.

Fateh MPs left the parliament in protest and later lodged an appeal against the vote with the Palestinian high court.

The former ruling party issued a statement accusing the parliament’s speaker, Hamas deputy Aziz Dweik, of “undermining all bases for agreement.”

One of the sticking points blocking a deal is Hamas’ stance on Israel.

Unlike Fateh, Hamas, which has been responsible for the bulk of anti-Israeli attacks during the five-year Palestinian Intifada, does not recognise the right of Israel to exist.

Another bone of contention is that Hamas was elected on a platform of cleaning up the Palestinian Authority, which has been rife with corruption and inefficiency during the 10 years it was led by Fateh.

Hamas promises to investigate the administration’s accounts and MPs’ assets, which is unlikely to sit well with Fateh.

As the two sides readied for talks, Abbas called on the world not to punish the Palestinians for electing Hamas and to continue providing them with aid.

“The international community should support the Palestinian people and continue its aid in all forms, and not punish them or starve them because of their democratic choices,” Abbas said after a meeting in the West Bank town of Ramallah with Slovenian President Janez Drnovsek.

The United States and European Union have threatened to cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority following the victory of Hamas.

Abbas said the international community “needs to be patient and give Hamas a chance. We cannot force them to make a 180-degree turn.”

He also called on the international community to step up its efforts to “relaunch the peace process and negotiations toward application of the roadmap” peace plan.

The internationally drafted roadmap, launched nearly three years ago, envisions an independent Palestinian state living in peace alongside a secure Israel.

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