Saturday, February 21, 2009

Talks between Palestinian groups to begin Wednesday

Word out of Egypt this week is that leaders of the Palestinian Authority and the militant Hamas organization plan to meet in Cairo this week to begin talks aimed at ending a competition that threatens to ruin progress toward peace in the Middle East. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry announced the Feb. 25 start of the long-delayed mediation efforts in a statement on Saturday, according to the Reuters international news service. The failure of the Fatah-dominated government of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and Islamic Hamas, which seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, to bring a united position to negotiations with Israel has made future progress nearly impossible. The violent schism also apparently has enabled Israel to convince the European Union that the Palestinians are not ready for statehood, Reuters said. The talks were scheduled to begin Sunday but were delayed by Hamas after the failure of truce talks on a more-lasting ceasefire with Israel following the Jewish state's three-week offensive in January. Hamas has demanded the release of members arrested by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum confirmed the Feb. 25 date, Reuters said, but demanded the release of Hamas activists arrested by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. A Fatah official said his group could release some Hamas prisoners, Reuters said. Bringing the two groups together has promise, but it is only a start considering the distance between their stances. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has called for a union between his organization and Hamas, but only under his authority. U.S. officials have said a unity government would have to renounced violence, recognize Israel and accept earlier agreements, three conditions that Hamas has thus far refused to consider.

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