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Rival Palestinian Factions Report Progress in Coalition Talks

Warring Palestinian factions have given an optimistic assessment about a new round of coalition talks. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, the negotiations come amid an increasingly violent power struggle over control of the Palestinian Authority.

In a surprise announcement, officials from the ruling Islamic militant group Hamas and the rival Fatah faction said significant progress has been made in secret talks on forming a national unity government. The declaration marks a sudden shift in atmosphere, after a month of deadly factional fighting that has raised fears of a Palestinian civil war.

Former Palestinian Cabinet Minister Ghassan Khattib of Fatah says power-sharing is the only way out of the political crisis.

"A national unity government is good news for the Palestinians, because it will reduce the tension between the main parties, and the friction," he said.

The secret coalition talks started in Syria two weeks ago between supreme Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal and two envoys of moderate Palestinian President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas.

The aim of the talks is to form a more moderate government that would be acceptable to the international community. Since winning Palestinian elections a year ago, Hamas has been crippled by international sanctions, because of its refusal to renounce violence and recognize Israel. Mr. Abbas wants to resume peace talks with Israel, and, in the process, restore the flow of hundreds-of-millions of dollars in western aid.

Hamas has been unable to pay the full salaries of 165,000 civil servants, leaving the Palestinian government in disarray. Khattib says a unity government offers Hamas an honorable way out.

"It will allow for more efficient government, of the kind that will, hopefully, have more efficiency and more transparency," he added.

But it remains unclear how Hamas will meet three key international conditions for ending sanctions: renouncing violence, recognizing Israel and accepting previous peace agreements. Hamas has said it will never accept those conditions, which are diametrically opposed to its Islamic ideology.

Hamas' refusal to soften its position led to the collapse of the previous round of coalition talks six weeks ago.