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Thursday, 14 November, 2002, 18:09 GMT
Palestinian rivals seek closer ties
Hamas militants
Hamas has carried out many suicide bombings

A meeting in Cairo between the rival Palestinian groups Fatah and Hamas has produced an agreement to establish closer relations.

The participants also discussed the current Israeli election campaign, and whether they should modify their tactics to avoid precipitating the election of an even more right-wing Israeli government.


While the leaders struggle to bridge the historic and ideological divide, the lines between the groups at local level are starting to blur

The communiqué from the Cairo meeting was bland in the extreme; the two groups agreed to meet again, and to set up a permanent liaison committee.

But for senior leaders of Fatah and Hamas to meet at all was news.

It is the first meeting of its kind since the mid-1990s, and the intervening years have been punctuated with sometimes fatal clashes between their followers.

Pressing for restraint

Fatah officials said they had also got their Hamas colleagues to agree to resist any attempts to replace Yasser Arafat as Chairman of the Palestinian Authority.

What they have not yet managed to do is persuade them to tone down their attacks on Israeli targets during the election period.

In particular they are suggesting a temporary halt to attacks on Israeli civilians within Israel's traditional borders.

Yasser Arafat
Arafat is under pressure to stop suicide bombings
This would still allow attacks on military targets, and Israeli settlements inside Gaza and the West Bank.

The argument is that attacks like that on a kibbutz in northern Israel - during which a mother and her two small children were shot dead - give the Palestinian resistance a bad name internationally and are likely to drive Israeli voters into the arms of the far right.

Lines blurred

Reports from Cairo say that Hamas did not rule this out completely, but would not agree to it unless the Israeli authorities stop assassinating Palestinian activists.

But while the leaders struggle to bridge the historic and ideological divide, the lines between the groups at local level are starting to blur.

As Israeli checkpoints and closures cut West Bank towns off from one another, the younger activists are finding themselves increasingly isolated from their leadership, and closer to activists from rival groups.


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12 Nov 02 | Middle East
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