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Palestinian Authority,  Armed Groups Prepare for Power-Sharing in Gaza - 2004-06-20

The Palestinian Authority is drawing up an agreement to share power in Gaza with armed factions, following an Israeli troop withdrawal from the territory. The plan is expected to be finalized at a meeting in Cairo next month with Egyptian government mediation.

In preparation for Israel's possible withdrawal from Gaza next year, the Palestinian Authority is attempting to reach a formula with armed factions on jointly running the territory.

This has been confirmed by the Palestinian Prime Minister, Ahmed Qureia, and other top Palestinian officials.

Mr. Qureia met with the Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, last week to prepare for a meeting in Cairo next month involving representatives of the Palestinian Authority and all Palestinian factions.

The forum is meant to produce an agreement under which all groups, including Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, would formally participate in Palestinian government institutions.

Both Hamas and the Islamic Jihad are on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations, and both have previously refused to join the Palestinian Authority.

The groups do not support the interim peace accords signed with Israel that created the Palestinian Authority. In recent weeks, however, these organizations have indicated they want to participate in running Gaza after an Israeli withdrawal.

The emerging shifts in Palestinian politics are in response to the Israeli Cabinet's approval of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to evacuate troops and settlements from Gaza and parts of the West Bank.

Deputy Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, who supports the plan, says he empathizes with the feelings of Israeli settlers opposed to the decision. But he says the move is designed for the greater good of all the country's citizens.

"This is very sad but this is inevitable and unavoidable," he said. "And I absolutely understand their desperation, their sensitivity, their rage. It is entirely understood given the circumstances. I would not have acted differently had I been pushed out of my home. But the national interests overcome the individual sensitivities and the sense of injustice that some of them feel about it."

Under the disengagement plan, which is still to be approved by the parliament, Israel would evacuate all its settlements in the Gaza Strip by the end of next year.