Egypt proposes Feb 22 for Palestinian talks

CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt has proposed February 22 as the date for the start of a dialogue between Palestinian groups, several of the groups said in reports published Tuesday.

Foreign Minister Ahmed Abou Gheit of Egypt, which has been mediating between the groups, told reporters: “We will invite the Palestinian groups. We hope we will succeed in this in the third week or at the end of the third week of February.”

The leftist Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), in a statement quoted by the Egyptian state news agency MENA, said Egyptian mediator Omar Suleiman “emphasized the importance of preparing the climate for the comprehensive national dialogue on February 22.”

Bilal Kassem, an official of the small Palestine Liberation Front, told the London-based Arabic newspaper al-Hayat: “Egypt will issue invitations to a comprehensive Palestinian national dialogue on February 22.”

The two reports gave few details but the dialogue is expected to take place in Egypt under the auspices of the Egyptian government, one of the few in the world which has working relationships with all the parties.

Ayman Taha, an official of the Islamist movement Hamas, told Reuters February 22 was a date under discussion and not final.

“This is among the ideas under discussions and to which we will give some responses in due course,” he added.

Egypt came close to organizing a Palestinian dialogue in November but the Islamist group Hamas pulled out a few days before it was due to begin, saying the rival Fatah group has failed to meet its demand that it free Hamas prisoners.

Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the European Union see Palestinian reconciliation as one of the keys to progress toward an end to the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza and toward a possible resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

The main parties are Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, and the Fatah group of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who since June 2007 has controlled only the West Bank.

The two sides agree in principle on the idea of a national unity government for the Palestinian Authority, but they disagree on whether Abbas still has a mandate to govern and on whether armed struggle is still a legitimate strategy for dealing with Israel.

They also disagree on the terms for reopening the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt. Abbas wants his forces to resume control there, but Hamas opposes that idea.

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