Fatah, Hamas Renew Unity Government Talks

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- The Fatah-affiliated Palestinian Authority and its rival faction, Hamas, are moving closer to implementing the unity agreement they signed at the end of April this year in Cairo.

Hamas is on the U.S. State Department list of terror organizations.  The Iranian-backed group made its mark in Israel carrying out brutal suicide bombings in restaurants, on buses, and in other public places during the last decade and more.

Such a union between Hamas and Fatah, which some consider to be more moderate than Hamas, would make any peace process between Israel and the Palestinians virtually impossible. The moribund talks have already been stalled for more than a year.

According to media reports, representatives of the two factions have been meeting in Cairo for the past several weeks to form a caretaker government and pave the way for parliamentary elections next spring.

The P.A.'s last legislative elections were held in January 2006, when Hamas surprised the U.S. and Israel by winning a majority 76 out of 132 seats.

Abbas and exiled Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal, who get together from time to time in Damascus, plan to meet Nov. 25 in Cairo.

One of the main sticking points for implementing the agreement has been Fatah's insistence that acting Prime Minister Salam Fayyad head up the new coalition. Hamas objects to Fayyad because of his popularity with the West and the West's support for the State of Israel.

Fayyad has offered to resign several times -- the latest last week -- to facilitate the formation of a unity government.

"I have always called for ending the split," Fayyad said. "I call upon the factions to find a new prime minister and stop claiming that I am the obstacle because I was never an obstacle and never will be."

Senior Hamas official Salah Bardawil said once Fayyad steps down, reconciliation between the two factions would be achieved.

Abbas appointed Fayyad prime minister of an "emergency government," following the bloody military coup in Gaza in June 2007, which left Hamas in control. Abbas replaced then Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh -- head of Hamas in Gaza -- with Fayyad.

Since then, Hamas has ruled the Gaza Strip, while the Palestinian Authority has governed Arab cities, such as Jenin and Nablus (biblical Shechem), in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank).

The P.A. was originally set up as a five-year transitional government in the Oslo Agreement.

In August 2005, under former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the Israeli government unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip, bulldozing 21 Jewish communities in the Gush Katif Settlement Bloc and northern Samaria. Israel also turned over control of the Philadelphi Corridor -- a narrow strip of land separating Gaza from the Sinai -- to Egypt.

In the ensuing years, Hamas and other Gaza-based terror groups have fired thousands of rockets, missiles and mortar shells on southern Israeli communities.

Since the overthrow of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak nearly a year ago, Israel says it's been easier for terrorists to smuggle weapons into Gaza and the Sinai itself has become a haven for terror groups.

Meanwhile, Abbas' term as president expired January 9, 2009, but despite periodic objections by Hamas, he has continued as the P.A.'s de facto leader.

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