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Sunday, August 22, 1999 Published at 18:20 GMT 19:20 UK

World: Middle East

Arafat meets radical opponent

Yasser Arafat wants to reunite Palestinian factions

By Barbara Plett in Cairo

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has begun a two-day meeting in Cairo with his estranged comrade, Nayef Hawatmeh.

Middle East
Mr Hawatmeh heads the Syrian-based Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) - one of the groups that opposes Mr Arafat's peace deal with Israel.

But the DFLP and another radical opposition group are participating in talks aimed at reuniting Palestinian factions ahead of final peace negotiations with Israel.

Oslo friction

Yasser Arafat has not met his former colleague since the two fell out over the Israeli-Palestinian peace accord hammered out in Oslo six years ago.

[ image: Nayef Hawatmeh: Felt the Oslo deal was a sell-out]
Nayef Hawatmeh: Felt the Oslo deal was a sell-out
Nayef Hawatmeh has made it clear that he still thinks the deal was a sell-out. But he says he and other Palestinian groups that rejected the agreement should now join forces with Mr Arafat in final talks with Israel.

Palestinian officials have welcomed the opportunity to seek the widest possible consensus to bolster their bargaining position.

But finding a compromise will be tough. Mr Hawatmeh is calling for a new negotiating strategy.

Israeli withdrawal

He wants the final peace talks to be based on UN resolutions that call for Israel to withdraw from the land it occupied in 1967, not on the Oslo peace process which has set up limited autonomy in the occupied territories.

He is also asking for a coalition leadership that would include those both in and outside of the territories.

Another radical opposition group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, held similar reconciliation talks with the Palestinian leader a few weeks ago.

Analysts say the two factions recognise that they will lose out if they continue to reject a process that will ultimately decide their fate.

They are also aware that their patron Syria is losing enthusiasm for supporting Palestinian militants as it prepares to resume peace talks with Israel.

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