Palestinian factional talks scheduled for Thursday, but doubts remain

RAMALLAH, Feb 23 (JMCC/Reuters) – A Hamas delegation led by deputy politburo head Moussa Abu Marzouk will travel to Cairo on Tuesday to attend an Egyptian-sponsored Palestinian reconciliation conference, a Hamas official said.

The Hamas team will hold bilateral meetings with President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction ahead of the conference involving 13 Palestinian organizations, he added. The factional talks will follow on Thursday, Feb. 26., Palestinian officials told the al-Quds newspaper.

The meet was initially to be held Sunday but was postponed after objections by the Islamist group Hamas.

Hamas continues to insist that its loyalists held by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank be released before negotiations continue between the factions.

"Hamas has never been against national dialogue," said a statement issued by the movement’s political leadership in the Gaza Strip. "But to guarantee the success of the talks, we need to create an appropriate atmosphere."

Rights groups estimate that 600 Palestinians are being held in West Bank prisons for affiliations with Hamas or other outlawed organizations. They charge the Palestinian Authority with using torture against the detainees.

Two Palestinians have died in suspicious circumstances in the custody of security  forces over the last year.

The Palestinian Authority says that all of these prisoners are being held for breaking the law, and that none are political prisoners.

Shaath says that 60-80 of the prisoners will be released Monday, but that "Hamas should reciprocate."

Fateh charges Hamas authorities in Gaza with arresting its loyalists and holding them illegally.

If held, the factional talks will address these and other issues, says head of Fateh’s parliamentary bloc, Azzam al-Ahmed. Faction leaders are expected to agree to the formation of five committees to study solutions for the key issues of disagreement.

The five issues are addressing the make-up of the Palestine Liberation Organization after Hamas’ 2006 elections victory in the Palestinian parliament, formation of a unity government, the holding of future elections, reparations for those killed and injured in factional violence and control of the security apparatuses.

Hamas officials welcomed these plans but said that the dialogue will only succeed if the Palestinian Authority releases West Bank prisoners, returns to paying the salaries of civil servants suspected of Hamas affiliation and halts incitement.

These ongoing disputes have contributed to confusion over the date of the meet. Factional officials said Sunday that they had not been officially invited to talks, despite an announcement by Egyptian officials that the factional dialogue would be held on Wednesday and Thursday, Feb. 24 and 25.

Fateh official Nabil Shaath told Voice of Palestine radio Monday that the announcement was premature.
"Our Egyptian brothers informed me that the coming Wednesday is not the set date. They are working on setting a specific date in the coming two days," he said.

Fateh and Hamas have been in a struggle over leadership since Hamas won parliamentary elections in January 2006. Currently, Hamas has effective administrative and security control in the Gaza Strip, while the Fateh-dominated Palestinian Authority runs the Palestinian Authority in the Gaza Strip.

The two factions are under pressure to end this split before a May 2 donor conference intended to raise money for the reconstruction of Gaza after Israel’s 22-day offensive.

The international community has largely boycotted Hamas, considering it an illegal terrorist organization, and is refusing to allow it to distribute funds.