/ 25 September 2006

Abbas puts off planned talks with Hamas

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday put off talks with Hamas aimed at breaking a stalemate over forming a unity government, in a sign of deep internal divisions.

Abbas’s aides had said the president was expected to travel to Gaza on Tuesday for talks with leaders of the ruling Hamas Islamist movement, including Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.

But later, one senior Abbas aide told Reuters: ”Of course he is not going to Gaza. There is a problem with Hamas, they keep reneging on the agreements.”

Hamas earlier insisted talks to form the unity coalition were not at a ”dead end” and said the impasse could be resolved.

Negotiations on forming a unity Cabinet that Palestinians hope will help to end a Western aid embargo have foundered over whether the new government will recognise Israel.

Abbas wants a political platform honouring interim peace deals with the Jewish state, which he hopes will satisfy the West. Hamas has sought vague wording that would not contradict the group’s charter calling for Israel’s destruction.

The president has accused Hamas of reneging on an agreement reached earlier this month on the political programme for the unity government. Hamas has denied the allegation.

Presidential spokesperson Nabil Abu Rdainah confirmed Abbas would not be going to Gaza.

”The president is not going to Gaza in the near future because he’s preoccupied with several appointments,” Rdainah said, adding Abbas was still insisting the planned unity government abide by interim peace deals signed with Israel.

Speaking earlier, Ghazi Hamad, spokesperson for the current Hamas-led government, said talks with Abbas this week might lead to discussions on Cabinet seats for the unity coalition.

”I do not believe we have returned to point zero or a dead end. There is … a big chance for the formation of a unity government to be concluded,” Hamad said.

Abbas said over the weekend that unity government talks had reached ”point zero” and must start from scratch.

The West imposed its aid embargo when Hamas came to power in March to pressure the group to meet three conditions: that it recognise Israel, renounce violence and abide by interim peace deals.

Abbas aides earlier said the president wanted to hear from Hamas this week if they had ideas on how to resolve the row. — Reuters