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Hamas Chief Calls for Talks With Rival Fatah

The exiled political leader of the Palestinian militant group Hamas is calling for talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of the rival Fatah party.

Speaking Friday in Damascus, Khaled Mashaal said Hamas is ready for reconciliation talks with Fatah, but that such discussions should be "unconditional." The Hamas political chief says Hamas will not give up control of the Gaza territory it seized six months ago.

Mashaal was responding to a call by Mr. Abbas earlier this week for Hamas-Fatah reconciliation talks. Since then, continuing clashes between Hamas and Fatah activists in the Gaza Strip have killed at least seven people.

Mashaal, who was speaking at a rally in Damascus celebrating Hamas's 20th anniversary, also said Hamas forces will continue their policy of armed resistance to Israel. He also said an Israeli soldier captured by Hamas militants in June of 2006 will not be released unless Israel releases members of Hamas that is has jailed.

The United States, the European Union, Japan and Canada are among nations that list Hamas as a terrorist group.

President Abbas said on Monday that he is ready to open a new page in relations between Hamas and Fatah, and to start reconciliation talks, if Hamas relinquishes control of Gaza.

Tensions between Hamas and Fatah have been high since the militant group won Palestinian parliamentary elections in January 2006, turning out an incumbent Fatah administration. The tensions erupted into deadly fighting that peaked with Hamas's takeover of Gaza in June.

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