GAZA (Reuters) – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, a leader of the militant Hamas group, said on Wednesday they would renew negotiations to form a unity government that might ease international isolation.
A Palestinian boy was killed in fresh violence between Fatah gunmen and members of a Hamas-led police force in southern Gaza on Wednesday, underscoring the tensions threatening the talks.
Previous efforts to form a national unity government after the Islamist group defeated Abbas’s Fatah in January election failed over Hamas’s refusal to accept Israeli-Palestinian peace deals that would imply recognition of the Jewish state.
Hamas formed a government mostly of its own members, prompting the suspension of foreign aid and plunging the Palestinian Authority into international isolation.
“The consultations and the contacts to achieve this goal (of a unity government) will begin from this moment,” Abbas said after meeting Haniyeh.
Haniyeh said: “It was agreed to begin the consultations to form this government … to strengthen national unity and to lift the siege on the Palestinian people and alleviate the suffering.”
“I am hopeful that these consultations will be fruitful and will achieve the desired goals,” he added.
Hamas is dedicated to destroying Israel and had carried out suicide bombings from 2000 until the beginning of 2005.
Abbas said he hoped a coalition deal would lead Hamas to soften its positions and to a renewal of global aid.
Shortly after the talks between Abbas and Haniyeh, Fatah gunmen and members of a Hamas-led police force clashed in the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis, where Haniyeh had been scheduled to visit with the family of a militant killed by Israel. A 14-year-old boy was killed in the crossfire.
In June, after inter-factional fighting heightened fears of civil war, Hamas and Fatah negotiated a unity agreement based on a document drafted by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.
But differences remained over recognition of Israel and neither Abbas nor Hamas pursued unity moves.
One Fatah official who asked not to be identified said unity negotiations would likely fail unless Hamas changed its stance on the Jewish state.
Palestinian government spokesman Ghazi Hamad said that a unity government could be formed only after Israel freed Hamas cabinet ministers and lawmakers it detained in the West Bank two months ago.
Israel detained them after Gaza militants, some from Hamas, abducted an Israeli soldier on June 25 in a cross-border raid. The attack prompted Israel’s first offensive in Gaza since quitting the territory last year.
Placing another potential obstacle to a unity government, Hamas officials have demanded any coalition be led by a Hamas member, a move unlikely to please world powers or Israel.
Hamad said talks would also be renewed on whether to allow Hamas and the militant Islamic Jihad, also sworn to destroying Israel, to join the Fatah-led Palestine Liberation Organization, which had signed interim peace deals with the Jewish state.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad have typically avoided joining the organization because it recognizes Israel.