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Palestinians pledge era of unity

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Hamas and Fatah news conference

Leaders of the rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah have said they are entering a new era of reconciliation, after talks in Cairo.

Delegations from each side, and other Palestinian groups, have agreed to set up committees to look at forming a unity government and holding elections.

The committees are to finish their work by the end of March, said senior Fatah official Ahmed Qurei.

On Wednesday both groups agreed to release detainees from the other side.

In another confidence-building measure, they pledged to stop attacking each other in the media to foster goodwill between the two sides.

'No choice'

Committees will also look at reforming the security services and merging Hamas into the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Liberation Organisation.

The talks were held at the office in Cairo of the powerful Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman.

FATAH-HAMAS RIVALRY
January 2006 - Hamas wins Palestinian Authority legislative election
March 2006 - Hamas government sworn in. US and EU suspend ties
February-March 2007 - Fatah and Hamas agree to form coalition to end growing factional warfare
June 2007 - Hamas seizes control of Gaza from Fatah after continued fighting. Unity government dissolved, Israel tightens blockade of Gaza Strip

He said there was no option but for the reconciliation process to succeed.

"We have no choice but to succeed and to move forward dramatically on the road to end division... You are responsible for your people," he told the delegates.

Solving Fatah-Hamas differences is seen also as an essential step if an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is to happen - although with Israel also at a political crossroads analysts say that could be a long way off.

The Palestinian negotiating committees will next meet on 8 March to continue their work.

Gaza reconstruction

About a dozen Palestinian groups are taking part in the national dialogue.

The idea is to form an interim unity government that would prepare for new presidential and legislative elections and co-ordinate the rebuilding of Gaza.

The US, Britain and the EU have made clear that they would rather see non-partisan technocrats in control of the Palestinian territories than a coalition which includes Hamas.

Members of Hamas's military wing, Gaza City, 19 January 2009
Hamas is accused of using violence to stifle opposition in Gaza

Egypt is hosting an international reconstruction conference on 2 March at which the Palestinians hope to raise $2.8bn (1.95bn).

A previous unity agreement fell apart after Israel and its international backers refused to deal with Hamas, which refuses to recognise Israel.

Inter-factional fighting in Gaza came to a head in the summer of 2007 when Hamas fighters ousted the pro-Fatah security forces and overthrew PA control.

As well as continued tension, both sides have been accused of conducting politically motivated arrests and the torture of rival faction members.

Egypt revived the call for Palestinian reconciliation talks in November.

However, Hamas withdrew from the talks, complaining that Fatah continued to arrest Hamas members in the West Bank.

Efforts to secure a reconciliation have gained strength since Israel's three-week military offensive in Gaza which ended on 18 January.

The Fatah and Hamas sides have fundamental differences over how to deal with Israel. While Fatah has renounced violence, Hamas refuses to recognise Israel. Hamas is prepared to accept a short-term truce but it reserves the right to fight Israel.

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FROM OTHER NEWS SITES
Xinhua News Agency Two field committees to be formed to support unity dialogue - 1 hr ago
Taipei Times Online Fatah, Hamas agree to reconciliation and unified Palestinian government - 2 hrs ago
Washington Post Clinton to visit Mideast, reconnect with Europeans - 4 hrs ago
Time TIME - 7 hrs ago
Arab News King lauds Palestinian unity - 13 hrs ago



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