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Palestinian Groups Withdraw From United Leadership Talks - 2004-04-11


Palestinian groups, including Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, have announced they are suspending indefinitely talks aimed at forging a united leadership. The move comes just days after the Palestinian president said he was open to including these organizations in his government, despite strong opposition from the U.S. administration.

The talks began two weeks ago, and were meant to resume on Saturday in Gaza City, following signs that Hamas and Islamic Jihad were ready to join a coalition with the Palestinian Authority.

Officials said Sunday the discussions had been canceled until further notice.

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat last week confirmed he was "exploring" the idea of forging a national leadership with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, despite protests from Washington.

Both groups are listed by the U.S. State Department as terrorist organizations, and have been responsible for frequent suicide bombings and other terror attacks that have killed hundreds of Israelis.

Palestinian officials said it was decided to postpone negotiations on including these and other groups in the government, to allow the different organizations more time to study the concept of a single national leadership.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad officials confirmed that both groups had sought a delay to examine various proposals.

These groups and the Palestinian Authority have set down their own conditions for forming a national unity government.

Hamas officials say, once the organization is accepted as a full political partner, they want their members accepted in all of the various Palestinian security organizations.

Hamas then declared that it wanted to draw up a power-sharing formula in Gaza with the Palestinian Authority.

The proposals are being discussed following Israel's plans to unilaterally withdraw troops and remove Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinian foreign affairs minister, Nabil Shaath, says he expects Hamas to declare a cease-fire, once Israel leaves Gaza. He expressed the hope that the withdrawal would also pave the way for Palestinian general elections.

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