NO BREAKTHROUGH IN HAMAS-FATAH TALKS – Abbas appeals to Mubarak

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Hamas and Fatah failed to reach a breakthrough in reconciliation talks held in Senegal, a top Hamas official said on Sunday.

Representatives from the two sides met separately with Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade in Dakar to try and resolve the dispute.

Osama Hamdan, Hamas’ representative in Lebanon, told Al-Jazeera Channel that no real progress was made in the extensive talks.

Nevertheless, the Senegalese government said in a statement that representatives of both groups were ‘direct and fraternal’ in the first of seven planned rounds of talks in Dakar

The statement did not provide further details.

Wade had pledged at a March summit of Islamic states held in the West African capital that he would undertake to mediate between the groups.

Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas was scheduled to arrive in Jeddah on Sunday for talks with Saudi King Abdullah on ways of ending the Fatah-Hamas dispute and the latest developments surrounding the peace process with Israel.

Officials in Ramallah said over the weekend that Abbas was planning to visit several other Arab countries in the coming days in a bid to win their backing for his latest initiative to end the Fatah-Hamas power struggle.

Last week, Abbas announced that he would launch unconditional talks with Hamas out of concern for the ‘unity of the Palestinian people and their homeland.’

The announcement came as a surprise to many, particularly since Abbas had refused to negotiate with Hamas unless the movement gave up control of the Gaza Strip.

Abbas talked over the weekend by phone with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and asked for help in persuading Hamas to resume talks with Fatah.

Sources close to Abbas said Mubarak, who welcomed the PA leader’s initiative, offered to host any talks between the two Palestinian movements.

Egyptian diplomats based in Ramallah were expected to meet with Hamas representatives on Sunday to discuss Abbas’ reconciliation initiative and efforts to achieve a ceasefire with Israel.

Hamas, which has welcomed the call for resuming talks with Fatah, said it was prepared to send representatives to Cairo as soon as they received an invitation from the Egyptians.

Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya phoned Egyptian General Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman over the weekend and urged him to work harder toward achieving a truce with Israel and solving the crisis with Fatah, sources close to Haniya said.

They added that Haniya also appealed to Suleiman to re-open the Rafah border crossing to Sinai so that Gazans would be able to travel. Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa phoned Haniya and expressed a willingness to host the Fatah-Hamas talks.

Hamas spokesman Ismail Radwan said his movement was prepared to meet with Fatah representatives at any time and place.

He also called on the PA to release hundreds of Hamas supporters who are being held in PA jails in the West Bank.

Abbas’ office instructed the PA-controlled media to stop attacks on Hamas as part of an effort to ease tensions between the two sides.

In response, Haniya ordered the Hamas-run media to stop attacks on Fatah.

Meanwhile, over the course of this week the Israeli government is expected to rule on whether to order an extensive military operation in the Gaza Strip.

As Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the cabinet ministers claim they have increasing ‘doubt of Hamas’ sincerity’ in committing to a ceasefire.

They also claim that any temporary truce would likely only be used by Gaza’s armed groups to regroup and gain strength – saying such a force would only end up being used against Israeli southern communities.

Immediately after the Shavuot holiday Olmert will consult with the ‘kitchenette’ – Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak and various senior figures from the defence establishment.

A cabinet meeting has been scheduled for Wednesday, though for now the official agenda listed for it is a topic other than the situation in Gaza.

Should Hamas and the other resistance groups use the holiday to increase their attacks, it will increase the pressure from sections of the armed forces and the government to order a military response.

‘The way it looks now, we’re closer to launching an operation in Gaza than we are to any other arrangement,’ Olmert told reporters accompanying him back to occupied territories from Washington on Friday.

During his visit Olmert clarified Israel’s stance to US President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Secretary of State Rice.

• Israeli officials in Jerusalem said on Saturday that Israel has begun the process of drafting a ‘peace agreement’ with the Palestinian Authority.

However, the officials stressed, the negotiations are far from a stage where a final accord can be drawn up.

‘While there are points of consent on minor issues, there is still a complex disparity when it comes to the core issues,’ said the officials.

‘The stage of drawing up an agreement is still far away. The efforts continue and there is much work ahead of us.’

Knesset members from both ends of the Israeli political spectrum had negative reactions to statements made by the Palestinian Authority’s top negotiator, Ahmad Qurei, on Friday in which he said Israel and the PA were prepared to begin drafting a final deal.

‘If what Qurei said regarding the drafting of a peace agreement is correct, it should be made clear that the next government will not recognise that document,’ said MK Avigdor Lieberman.

‘Such a document should be seen as an attempt at a political coup aimed at retaining power and not a serious political accord agreed upon in a rational and responsible manner,’ he said.

For his part, Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar accused Prime Minister Olmert and Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Livni of ‘selling Israel’s interests down the river while they continue their political bickering.’

Sa’ar said that ‘the only reason to put these things in writing is to saddle the next government with far-reaching concessions. For this to be done in the final days of the Olmert-Livni government is an outrageous coup.’

Earlier, Qurei told reporters that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have agreed to start drafting elements of a ‘proposed peace accord.’

‘We agreed with the Israelis to begin writing the positions,’ he said.

Qurei, the veteran negotiator heading the Palestinian team, made it clear that the decision did not necessarily reflect agreement on major issues.

However, this would be the first time since negotiations resumed more than six months ago that anything would be committed to paper.

Qurei did not explain why the two sides had agreed at this point to begin drafting a text.

He did not say what issue the two sides would start with.

If they reach agreement on any issue, then they will draft a single provision, he said. If not, they will lay out on paper their divergent views, he added.

‘The Israelis presented a land swap offer, but this offer is unacceptable to us,’ he said.

The Israeli negotiators were reported as ‘offering’ the Palestinians land in exchange for territory where major West Bank settlements lie.