- The Washington Times - Monday, January 22, 2007

DAMASCUS, Syria — Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the exiled chief of the rival Hamas faction failed last night to resolve their differences over forming a unity government, dashing hopes for a quick end to deadly clashes between their supporters.

But Mr. Abbas and Hamas leader Khalid Mashaal said they “achieved major progress” during the meeting — their first since July 2005 — and hoped to resume talks within two weeks.

“There are still points of disagreement, but we will try to resolve them through a national dialogue until we form a national unity government,” Mr. Mashaal said at a press conference with Mr. Abbas in Syria’s capital, Damascus.

The two sides stressed that recent Palestinian fighting, which has killed at least 62 persons since May, was unacceptable and pledged to exert efforts to avoid political friction.

“Palestinian bloodshed was considered totally prohibited, and we must exert all efforts to avoid frictions and internal clashes,” Mr. Abbas said.

The two men had been scheduled to meet Saturday evening, but that session was canceled.

Officials from both sides had cautioned against expecting immediate results from yesterday’s meeting.

Both sides said differences remained, without providing details. The thorniest issues have been control of the two factions’ security forces and Hamas’ refusal to recognize Israel or commit to previous accords signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

An official of Mr. Abbas’ Fatah party in the Gaza Strip was optimistic about the meeting, saying Mr. Abbas and Mr. Mashaal had agreed to let an independent run the Interior Ministry, though they did not agree on who should lead the powerful security wing.

“I think some things were accomplished. Some issues were resolved, and others remain problematic. That would need continuation of dialogue here in Gaza and mediation in Damascus,” said Abdel Hakim Awad, Fatah’s spokesman in Gaza.

He said differences also remained over the wording of the official document laying out the new government.

The deputy head of Hamas’ political bureau, Moussa Abu Marzouk, who attended part of yesterday’s talks, said the one sticking point was the conditions under which Mr. Abbas would name a new prime minister for the unity government.

Despite the lack of agreement, he said the meeting “will send a message to the Palestinian people that the two sides are committed to continue dialogue.”

The militant group Hamas, which controls the Palestinian parliament and Cabinet, and Mr. Abbas’ more moderate Fatah movement have been stuck in political deadlock since Hamas’ victory in legislative elections last year. Mr. Abbas was elected president separately.

The refusal of Hamas to recognize Israel’s right to exist led to Western sanctions, which have paralyzed the Palestinian economy.

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