Sunday, January 25, 2009

Hamas to Abbas: End talks with Israel before any reconciliation


A senior Hamas official said Sunday the Palestinian Authority must end security coordination and peace talks with Israel before any reconciliation talks between the two rival Palestinian groups can take place he remarks by Osama Hamdan are bound to complicate Arab efforts to reconcile Hamas, which controls Gaza, and the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

Hamdan is Hamas's representative in Lebanon and is close to top Damascus-based leader Khaled Mashaal.

Speaking at a rally in Beirut Sunday, Hamdan said Hamas welcomed Palestinian dialogue, but any reconciliation should be based on "a resistance program to liberate the (occupied) territory and regain rights."

He maintained that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process had ended.

Earlier, a Hamas delegation was meeting with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman for talks on reopening the Rafah border crossing, largely closed since the group violently took over Gaza in June 2007.

The issue is key to preserving the Israel-Hamas cease-fire, and Israel, the United States and Egypt are trying to work out security arrangements to ensure Hamas does not smuggle weapons into the Strip before the terminal is reopened.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said discussions would address a detailed cease-fire agreement.

"We are not going to accept less than opening the borders ... and lifting the sanctions," Barhoum told AP on Sunday.

"We reject an open-ended cease-fire, but temporary calm with guarantees can be discussed," he also said, without specifying how long.

A low-level delegation from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's West Bank-based government, was also in Cairo for talks, but was not expected to meet with the Hamas envoys.

Earlier Sunday, the Hamas government in Gaza began its first week back in business, operating from makeshift offices, as the Palestinian terror group prepared for the talks with Egypt on consolidating the week-long cease-fire with Israel.

The group said it would be distributing $52 million in aid to people affected by the IDF's operation against rocket-fire. The cash compensations for lost relatives or damaged homes would come from its own funds, Hamas said, until relief pledged by international donors can come in. Hamas receives millions in funding from Iran and donations from supporters around the world, believed to be smuggled into the territory through tunnels.

Some Hamas aid has already been passed out in a few cases in recent days, but Hamas said its formal distribution was beginning Sunday.

Top Hamas leaders remained in hiding, but lower-level Hamas officials could be seen back to work on Sunday, sometimes operating outside from a table set next to the rubble of their destroyed offices. Early in the morning, the Hamas national security chief, Gen. Hussein Abu Athra, was signing orders on the hood of his car next to the pummeled historic building that had served as security headquarters.

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