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Palestinians Fail to Resolve Factional Differences, but Talks Continue

Talks between the two main Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, to resolve their differences and form a unity government have gone nowhere. The main stumbling block remains Hamas's refusal to renounce violence and recognize Israel's right to exist, but discussions are expected to continue.

It has been an uneasy partnership from the start, ever since the militant Islamic group Hamas trounced the secular, long-dominant Fatah faction in legislative elections last January.

Hamas took over the Palestinian parliament and government under the leadership of Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, while Fatah went into the opposition, keeping its lever on power with Mahmoud Abbas retaining the presidency.

Initial talks over a unity government went nowhere, and things went from bad to worse as funding dried up due to Israel suspending tax transfers and the United States and Europe stopping all but humanitarian aid. Israel and the United States consider Hamas a terrorist organization and the international community is demanding that Hamas renounce violence, recognize Israel, and accept previously signed peace agreements.

Those demands remain the sticking point amid continuing attempts to form a unity Hamas-Fatah government that would hopefully allow international assistance to resume.

But last week President Abbas said those attempts had broken down.

Speaking in Ramallah, the president said dialogue had failed and he warned he would weigh the options available to him as president, hinting he could dissolve the current Hamas-led government and call for new elections.

President Abbas was adamant any new unity government would have to adhere to certain standards and accept commitments made by previous governments.

A few days later Prime Minister Haniyeh was just as adamant that Hamas would not be forced out of power or give in to outside pressure to moderate its position.

But he too called for an end to the violent rivalry between Hamas and Fatah, and urged President Abbas to return to the negotiating table.

Mediation efforts were taken up by Qatar's foreign minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani, but so far the deadlock remains.

A senior aide to President Abbas, Yasser Abed Rabbo says the problem lies with Hamas.

Speaking on Palestinian radio, Abed Rabbo said Hamas must differentiate between the political agenda of the Islamic movement and the agenda of the Palestinian government. He warned Hamas's failure to do that would result in catastrophe.

There are fears that the failure of the two rival factions to resolve their differences will not only lead to a deepening economic crisis for the Palestinian people, but could also lead to outright civil war. More than a dozen Palestinians were killed in factional fighting last week.

Talks are continuing in the hope that some sort of agreement can be reached by the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which is less than two weeks away.