DAKAR, (Reuters) – Hamas and Fatah delegates have met Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade in a first round of mediation aimed at finding a common position for an eventual deal with Israel, Senegalese state media reported on Saturday.
Wade said at an Organisation of the Islamic Conference summit he hosted in March that Israeli President Shimon Peres had asked him to intervene to achieve peace in the Middle East and that the Palestinians had also agreed to his mediation. “The head of state of Senegal is talking with the delegates from Hamas and Fatah one after the other,” Senegal’s official daily Le Soleil quoted Wade’s spokesman El Hadj Amadou Sall as saying of the talks, which the paper said began on Friday. “The first phase is an interPalestinian phase …(to) agree on a common position leading to peace with Israel,” Senegalese state news agency APS quoted Sall as saying. “At the moment he is talking in turn with delegates from Fatah and Hamas. The proper negotiations will take place in seven stages,” he said.
Sall was unavailable for immediate comment on Saturday.
A Hamas spokesman in Gaza could not confirm the meeting. “We do not have any information concerning a meeting between Hamas and Fatah in Dakar,” he said.
Hamas Islamists defeated the long-dominant more secular Fatah movement in parliamentary elections in 2006 to end more than 40 years of Fatah ascendency. Hamas fighters went on to rout Fatah forces and take over the Gaza Strip in June 2007.
Yemen tried to broker a reconciliation deal between the rival Palestinian movements in March but efforts broke down after disagreement over whether Hamas should cede control of the coastal territory.
Arab ministers meeting at the Arab League have backed the Yemeni proposal, which calls on Hamas to hand over control of Gaza. Hamas says it is ready to resume dialogue but without preconditions.
Hamas’s leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, called Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman on Saturday, seeking Arab support for the renewed dialogue, Haniyeh’s office said.
Haniyeh said last Thursday he welcomed what he called a “new spirit” of dialogue in a keynote speech by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, of Fatah. However, aides to Abbas rejected suggestions he had taken a warmer tone to his Hamas Islamist opponents, and insisted his call for “a national and comprehensive dialogue” with Hamas concerned only implementation of the Yemeni initiative.
Washington opposes contact with Hamas unless it drops hostility to Israel and ends its attacks on the Jewish state.
Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert launched peace negotiations last November hoping to reach a deal on Palestinian statehood before U.S. President George W. Bush leaves office in January 2009, but there has been little progress to date.
Abbas has previously said he would not seek a further term as Palestinian president, and an Israeli lawmaker said last month Abbas told him he would resign if there was no peace deal with Israel by the end of the year. But a senior Fatah official said on Saturday Abbas would be the movement’s candidate in Palestinian presidential elections scheduled for 2010.