CAIRO (AP) – Egypt urged all Palestinian factions on Thursday to work on ending their internal chasm in reconciliation talks aimed at pushing rivals Hamas and Fatah to form an interim unity government.
“Your people are looking forward to seeing the beginning of your unity,” said Gen. Omar Sulieman, Egypt’s intelligence head, in nationally televised comments Thursday.
Distrust between the groups runs deep after a power struggle including Hamas’ violent takeover of Gaza in 2007, leaving Fatah in charge of only the West Bank.
Tensions escalated further after Israel’s three-week offensive in Gaza, designed to stop Hamas rocket fire into southern Israel.
Hamas claimed the government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas ran a Gaza spy ring that fed Israel information about Hamas targets during the offensive that ended Jan. 18. Abbas’ Fatah accused Hamas of killing and wounding dozens of Fatah activists under the cover of the war.
Previous reconciliation talks fell apart in November when Hamas pulled out at the last minute after a dispute with Fatah over releasing Hamas prisoners.
On Tuesday, Fatah agreed to release 42 Hamas detainees in the West Bank in a goodwill gesture ahead of the talks and promised to release more in the future. At a news conference Wednesday night in Cairo, both sides announced they had agreed on a release of detainees but there was no information on how many detainees would be freed.
Sulieman said negotiating committees for the two sides would meet again March 8 to continue work on forming an interim unity government.
A senior Egyptian official said Egypt hopes that both groups manage to form a national unity government by April. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media.
The five negotiating committees are in charge of discussing arrangements to form an interim government, hold presidential and legislative elections, restructure the security services, merge Hamas into the Fatah-run Palestine Liberation Organization and goodwill gestures including the release of detainees in the prisons of both Fatah and Hamas.
Egypt is hosting an important Gaza Reconstruction conference on March 2 and a power-sharing deal between Hamas and Fatah is seen as key to moving ahead with the reconstruction. The international community shuns the violently anti-Israel Hamas and won’t send money directly to it.
The Palestinians hope to raise $2.8 billion at Monday’s conference, where the U.S. is expected to pledge $900 million.
In a separate effort, Egyptian mediators are trying to reach a more permanent truce between Israel and Hamas to replace a shaky cease-fire that ended last month’s offensive.