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Wednesday, 25 October, 2000, 22:25 GMT 23:25 UK
Hamas and Fatah join forces
The green flag of Hamas flies among the Palestinian national colours
The green flag of Hamas flies among the Palestinian national colours
By Barbara Plett in Cairo

Loyalists of the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat are co-operating with Islamic militants to steer the month-old Palestinian uprising.

Palestinian with slingshot
The committee wants Palestinians to be united in their struggle
Committee members said the group has representatives from all Palestinian factions, including Mr Arafat's Fatah movement and Islamists Hamas.

The existence of such a committee has raised questions about whether Mr Arafat is hardening his position in response to moves by the Israeli government to make an alliance with the right-wing Likud party.

The committee did not come out of nowhere - some of these parties already had a forum for discussions.

But now the meetings are held regularly under the auspices of the Palestinian Legislative Council to steer the Intifada, or uprising.

The Intifada has improved relations between Yasser Arafat and Hamas

Members said they plan demonstrations and make speeches, but don't direct Palestinian gunmen who have been shooting at Israeli targets.

The committee's Hamas representative, Ismail Abu Shanab, stressed that the military wings of various factions were working independently.

Alliance of convenience

Yasser Arafat himself and his Palestinian Authority are not part of the coalition.

Yasser Arafat
Mr Arafat is keeping a close eye on the committee
But they are watching it closely and have met it twice.

But news of the committee has sparked Israeli fears that Mr Arafat may be making an alliance of convenience with Islamic militants, who have tried to sabotage the peace process in the past with suicide bombings.

Their concerns were reinforced by the recent release of Hamas and Jihad prisoners who were set free by the Palestinian Authority, or who fled during Israel's recent rocket attacks on Gaza and the West Bank.

Need for unity

Committee members say one of their key functions is to provide internal cohesion to face Israel.

Ismail Abu Shanab confirmed that the Intifada had improved relations between Hamas and Yasser Arafat, who's spent the past few years trying to dismantle the group.

But he said it wasn't clear yet whether Mr Arafat would consider an alliance.

Palestinian observers say their leader is probably keeping his options open.

They say initially Mr Arafat may have seen the uprising as a way to send a strong message to Israel, but it got out of control when the Israeli army responded with unexpected force and now he cannot easily act against the mood of his people.

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