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Hamas, Fatah Move Closer to Deal

Palestinian rivals Hamas and Fatah have announced an agreement on ways to share power and end their divisions, saying they will hold more talks before signing a final Egyptian-mediated deal next month.

The two sides issued a joint declaration early Saturday following late night talks between exiled Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal and senior Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmed in the Syrian capital, Damascus. The statement said the two sides have reached an understanding on the majority of their differences, but gave few details.

Hamas official Izzat Rashaq said the next meeting is expected during the first week of October. The two groups then plan to sign the agreement in Cairo, clearing the way for new Palestinian elections. Hamas had previously rejected the Egyptian proposal.

Reconciliation between the two factions is considered critical because Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas needs a unanimous stance to back newly restarted talks with Israel.

Hamas militants oppose peace with Israel and have threatened to derail the negotiations with violence. Hamas accuses Mr. Abbas and his moderate Fatah faction of treason for engaging in the talks.

Palestinian security forces in the West Bank rounded up hundreds of suspects for questioning after Hamas claimed responsibility for two roadside attacks that left four Israelis dead and two more injured just after Mideast peace talks opened in Washington late last month.

Mr. Abbas, speaking at the talks, vowed that Fatah security services will continue to crack down on militants, including Hamas members, who use violence to thwart the negotiations.

Two years of Egyptian mediation had previously failed to heal the rift between Hamas militants, supported by Iran, and the secular Fatah movement.

Hamas seized control of Gaza from Fatah in 2007 and Israel responded by placing the territory under an economic blockade. The Islamist group has vowed to continue attacks on Israeli settlers.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.