- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 9, 2008

DAMASCUS, Syria | A senior Hamas official in Syria on Saturday announced that his group was boycotting this weekend’s Palestinian reconciliation talks with rival Fatah.

The talks were to start in Cairo on Sunday. The two feuding sides were expected to discuss forming a joint government, rebuilding security forces and setting a date for presidential and legislative elections.

But deputy Hamas leader Moussa Abu Marzouk told the Associated Press that Fatah had reneged on a pledge to release the Hamas prisoners whom it holds ahead of the dialogue, prompting the boycott. He acknowledged that many issues had been settled but that the prisoners issue was too important to disregard.

Mr. Abu Marzouk blamed Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas for the talks’ collapse.

“Going there [to the talks] is not a target in itself. The target is to reunite Palestinian groups,” Mr. Abu Marzouk said. He also said Egypt’s “vision” for reconciliation “does not represent the Hamas point of view.” He did not elaborate.

The Fatah delegation, already in the Egyptian capital on the eve of the talks, expressed shock at Hamas’ decision.

“This decision is unwise. … It shows that Hamas doesn’t want a solution. I think that the consequences will be very dangerous,” said Ahmed Abdel Rahman, a member of the Fatah team in Cairo. “We are shocked by this decision. It shows that Hamas is irresponsible when it comes to the fate of the Palestinian people.”

Mr. Abbas’ spokesman Nabil Abu-Rudeineh said Hamas’ pretext for staying away was “unacceptable.”

Hamas reportedly wants the release of some 500 Palestinians whom it says Fatah is holding in its jails. Mr. Abu Marzouk argued that Hamas had met Fatah demands and released all the prisoners whom it held, but Fatah failed to reciprocate and continues to arrest Hamas members.

“Arrests are ongoing in the West Bank,” Mr. Abu Marzouk added. “How could we talk about national unity under these circumstances?”

In the West Bank town of Jenin, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who is in charge of security forces, said Fatah has no political prisoners and holds only “detainees for breaking the law.”

Hamas’ “hesitation and stalling don’t serve the goal of reuniting the homeland,” added Mr. Fayyad, who spoke during a joint press conference with visiting U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki confirmed to the AP that the talks had been canceled because of the Hamas boycott and said a statement would be issued soon.

An Egyptian security official said Egypt turned back at the Rafah border crossing with the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip some 35 representatives of various Palestinian factions who were about to enter Egypt to take part in the talks after they had been canceled. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.



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