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Palestinian Factions Discuss United Gaza Leadership - 2004-04-03

Palestinian factions, including Hamas, are meeting Saturday to discuss the formation of a united leadership to rule the Gaza Strip, after an Israeli troop withdrawal.

Hamas official Ismail Haniyeh says that both his organization and the Islamic Jihad are attending Saturday's talks.

Both groups, which are on the U.S. State Department's list of terror organizations, have been behind frequent suicide bombings and other terror attacks that have killed hundreds of Israelis.

In the past, these organizations have also ruled out seeking positions in the Palestinian Authority.

However, Hamas officials announced Friday that they now plan to share power with other Palestinian groups in running Gaza following an Israeli troop withdrawal and the evacuation of Jewish settlements from the territory.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says he intends to carry out such a move unilaterally, if peace talks with the Palestinians remained stalled.

Nizar Rayan, a senior Hamas official, told a rally in Gaza on Friday that his movement would accept responsibility for the running of the territory, after an Israeli pullout.

He said Hamas has a plan that it intends to present to other Palestinian groups, outlining how Gaza would be governed.

The plan was expected to be discussed at Saturday's meeting in Gaza.

Palestinian officials say the aim of the meeting is to consider the possibility of forging a single Palestinian leadership with the participation of all the factions.

Hamas official Ismail Haniyeh said his organization accepted the need to have its representatives in a future Gaza administration to be chosen through elections.

He says that Hamas wants an Israeli troop withdrawal from Gaza to become the catalyst for reconciliation between the various Palestinian factions, rather than the start of a violent power struggle.