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Fatah, Hamas hold reconciliation talks ahead of possible peace negotiations with Israel

Mohammed Salem / Reuters

Palestinians take part in a rally marking the 48th anniversary of the founding of the Fatah movement, in Gaza City, on January 4. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians joined a rare rally staged by President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah group in Gaza on Friday, as tensions ease with rival Hamas.

Updated at 8:40 a.m. ET: TEL AVIV, Israel — Officials with rival factions Hamas and Fatah will this weekend seek a reconciliation deal that would potentially give Palestinians a stronger position in future peace negotiations with Israel.   

The talks are meant to help bury years of differences that have damaged Palestinian efforts to create a separate state. Discussions began Friday and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, of Fatah, and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal were due to meet Sunday.


Salah Bardaweel, a senior official with Hamas — which controls the Gaza Strip, said the negotiations between Meshaal and Abbas would cover the creation of a new government headed by Abbas.

"Reconciliation is a national necessity and all are working on achieving it," he said.

Fatah and Hamas have starkly different visions of what a future Palestinian state would consist of.  

Fatah controls the Palestinian Authority, which represents the Palestinian cause internationally, and is pursuing a negotiated solution with Israel with the eventual establishment of a separate state alongside Israel. Islamist Hamas, branded a terror group by the United States and other governments, does not recognize Israel as a legitimate state. 

Alaa Badarneh / EPA

Palestinians participate in a Hamas rally as part of celebrations marking the 25th anniversary of the Islamist movement's founding in the West Bank city of Qalqilya on December 15.

A recent announcement that President Barack Obama was planning to visit Israel and the West Bank this spring raised the prospect of a new U.S. push to restart the long-stalled Israel-Palestinian peace efforts. Success is far from certain — Israel and the Palestinians remain deeply at odds on how to restart talks that broke down more than two years ago.

Israeli-Palestinian talks foundered in 2010 and Israeli then sped up housing construction in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem — land the Palestinians claim for a future state. 

Bernard Sabella, a member of the Palestinian parliament, said reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah would give “the Palestinian people the chance to practice its national right in electing their president, legislative council and so on.”

Ahmad Assaf, a Fatah spokesperson, said a  transitional government would operate for three to six months until elections were held.

"The transitional government’s role is to prepare for the elections and to unify the Palestinian institutions," he said. "In Fatah, we are determined on achieving the reconciliation through elections."

Divisions
While Hamas and Fatah said that they were determined to reach a reconciliation deal, signs persisted of ongoing troubles between the two sides.  

Palestinian security forces had arrested more than 25 members of Hamas over two days,  Agence France Presse news service cited an unnamed security source as saying on Friday. According to him, explosives were found in the possession of some of those detained in the area of Ramalah in the West Bank.

And on Thursday, Hamas accused the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority of escalating an arrest campaign against its supporters in the West Bank.

Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip area, said in a press release that eight activists had been detained in the previous two days in Ramallah and Nablus districts.

A recent report by the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR ) said that human rights violations have been continuing in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The report said the ICHR last month received 31 complaints about torture and mistreatment and 24 alleging unwarranted arrests.

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