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Palestinian Unity Meeting Opens in Cairo

By Edward Yeranian
Cairo
10 March 2009

Top Palestinian leaders from the rival Hamas and Fatah factions are meeting in Cairo to try to hammer out an agreement that will pave the way for a unity government in both Gaza and the West Bank. Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, a veteran of many previous mediation efforts, is chairing the conference.

Top Palestinian leaders from all major factions, including the rival Fatah and Hamas groups, are meeting in Cairo in a bid to resolve long-standing grievances and pave the way for a new national unity government.

Egyptian intelligence chief, General Omar Suleiman, looking stern-faced and resolute, told the participants that it was in their interest and the interest of the Palestinian people to reconcile, and that they should "do their utmost" towards that end.

Participants at the ten-day conference will form five committees to tackle the key issues of forming a unity government; preparing for presidential and parliamentary elections, rebuilding Palestinian security forces, and reorganizing the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa warned the Palestinian factions at the meeting that disunity would have negative consequences for both them and for the Arab world.

He says the situation remains critical, but Palestinian and Arab reconciliation will constitute a strong weapon in the crucial phase to come ... He says, I am confident that you understand the intricacy of the situation and the acute challenges in the wake of global change such as the new U.S. administration, the economic crisis, and the crisis in international relations.

Nearly $5 billion were pledged recently by international donors to rebuild the war-torn Gaza Strip, following a bitter 21-day conflict between Israel and the Hamas group that controls the territory.

Most donor states back the Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas, and are refusing to allow aid money to go to the rival Hamas leadership, which has controlled Gaza for nearly two years.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit told the gathering it is indispensable that rival Palestinians show flexibility to overcome their differences.

He says, we have the abiding hope that you will all show the needed flexibility and strong will to overcome the differences in views and put them aside while tackling thorny issues and above all taking into account Palestinian interests.

Feuding between Hamas and Fatah brought the Palestinian territories to the brink of civil war well before the recent Gaza conflict with Israel. An agreement to form a unity government, signed in February 2007 in Saudi Arabia, failed to solve the inter-Palestinian feud, leading instead to the Hamas takeover of Gaza the following June.



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