Hamas and Fatah lay out process for reconciliation

Leaders from two groups hold 'friendly' talks in Damascus on Friday, agreeing to hold another meeting designed to bring about peace between the rival Palestinian factions.

DAMASCUS // Leaders from Fatah and Hamas held "friendly" talks in Damascus on Friday, agreeing to hold another meeting designed to bring about reconciliation. Khaled Meshaal, the exiled head of Hamas, based in Damascus, and a senior Fatah representative, Azzam al Ahmad, released a joint statement after their discussions. They said they had reviewed "points of disagreement" and laid out "a process and measures to advance towards reconciliation".Following the next meeting, due to take place "shortly", they hope to go to Cairo to sign a definitive agreement on Palestinian unity, the statement said.

Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, and Fatah, which controls the West Bank, have been bitterly divided since Hamas won elections in 2006. Talal Nasser, a Hamas official in Syria, said the group was "very keen for Palestinian reconciliation", but insisted there would be no softening of its stance either on refusing to recognise Israel or its rejection of past agreements made by the Palestinian Authority (PA) with the Israeli government. "This meeting indicates that the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza are united," he said. "But we have to stress again that there can be no reconciliation under the pressure of recognising Israel as a state or recognising the Quartet's conditions or to accept any decision that cuts Palestinian rights.

"We are looking for reconciliation on the basis of resistance and the fulfilment of the rights of the Palestinian people." The Quartet – the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations – has refused to negotiate with Hamas until it recognises Israel and accepts the PA as the official representative of the Palestinians. Mr Nasser also indicated that Friday's meeting was designed to undercut the Quartet-backed direct peace talks under way between Israel and the PA, negotiations Hamas and other Palestinian factions have refused to recognise.

Friday's meeting "was to put a stop to the further erosion of Palestinian rights and to end the road of free concessions being given to Israel", he said. psands@thenational.ae