Abbas puts pressure on Hamas to rescue talks from 'point zero'

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The Independent Online

Ismail Haniyeh, the Palestinian Prime Minister, said yesterday that his Hamas government had "serious intentions" to reach agreement on a national-unit coalition in talks with President Mahmoud Abbas due to resume in Gaza early this week. Expressing "real hope" that they would succeed, Mr Haniyeh added: "I believe that we have gone a long way down the road."

But officials in Mr Abbas' Fatah party remained deeply pessimistic after the Islamic movement reiterated its refusal to recognise Israel.

The President said on his way home from the United Nations on Saturday that the talks were back at "point zero".

Saeb Erakat, his chief negotiator, predicted in Amman yesterday that the President would tell Hamas: "If you want a unity government, there are international requirements that need to be met, and that's the only way to form a unity government." The Quartet - the United States, the European Union, United Nations and Russia - has insisted ever since Hamas won the Palestinian elections in January that it must recognise Israel, honour past agreements and renounce violence.

In anattempt to strengthen Mr Abbas and encourage the unity talks, the Quartet hinted last week at measures to ease the economic siege on Gaza.

Walid Awad, a Fatah spokesman, said: "The gap is too wide. The declarations made by Prime Minister Haniyeh and other Hamas leaders that they will not recognise Israel and they will not abide by past agreements are bad omens for the chance of reconciliation."

Hamas, whose charter calls for an Islamic state in the whole of historic Palestine, has offered a 10-year hudna, or truce, instead of recognition. But that is not enough for Mr Abbas so long as Israel sticks to the Quartet's three demands. "A 10-year hudna is fine," Mr Awad said, "if the other side takes it, but it is no good if the other side doesn't accept it."