Hamas says it's serious about sharing power with Fatah

Sunday, September 24th 2006, 1:47 pm
By: News On 6

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) _ Hamas said Sunday it will resume talks on building a governing coalition with moderate President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement, but the militant Islamic group gave no indication of any move toward compromise on recognizing Israel.

The announcement of a resumption in talks came after an angry standoff with Fatah over the recognition issue and a warning by Abbas that the talks were going nowhere.

Western nations cut off aid after the hard-line Hamas won elections to take control of the Palestinian government. The West says the Palestinian government must meet three demands _ recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept previous agreements.

A coalition deal between Hamas and Fatah, reached earlier this month, was vague on the recognition of Israel, and both sides have since offered different interpretations.

Abbas' aides say Hamas agreed to honor all the agreements of previous Palestinian governments, which would imply recognition of Israel since the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel exchanged letters of mutual recognition in 1993.

Hamas insists it was much less specific and agreed only to support those PLO commitments that serve the Palestinian interest.

Abbas will meet Tuesday in Gaza with Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas to try to rescue the coalition agreement, said Saeb Erekat, an Abbas aide.

Erekat said it is time for Haniyeh to adopt clear positions.

``It is not about games of words, it's not about intentions, it's about a clear-cut commitment,'' Erekat said. ``He must realize that any government must accept the commitments and obligations of the PLO and previous governments, including the letter of mutual recognition.''

Haniyeh said Sunday that Hamas is still interested in forming a broader government. Hamas has ruled alone since March after winning parliamentary elections, and hopes it can end the crippling international aid boycott by bringing in Fatah.

``We are going to resume talks on the formation of a national coalition government,'' Haniyeh said in a statement. ``We have serious intentions to make it succeed, and we hope that the talks will resume soon.''

Haniyeh did not, however, indicate whether Hamas would compromise. Only two days earlier, Haniyeh said he would never head a coalition that recognizes Israel.

Despite their differences, Hamas and Abbas appear to have little choice but to govern together.

Hamas needs Fatah to win international recognition and restore foreign aid. During its six months in power, Hamas has been largely unable to pay the salaries of 165,000 civil servants, the backbone of the Palestinian labor force. The Palestinian Authority has been teetering on the brink of collapse, increasingly unable to provide services.

Abbas could fire the current government and install a new one, but the new government would then require the approval of parliament, which is controlled by Hamas. Early elections are seen as an unpopular option, and there are no guarantees Fatah would win.

In Gaza City, meanwhile, two dozen Islamic militant gunmen threatened to attack any coalition that recognized Israel.

``We will fight against it by all means, and we will deal with it as an entity linked to the occupation,'' said one of the gunmen, who would only identify himself by his nom de guerre, Abu Abir.

The gunmen, who gathered outside a mosque, represent only a small splinter group. However, it marked the first time Palestinian militants said publicly they were prepared to attack government officials.

The threats came at a time of growing tensions between Hamas and Fatah, particularly in Gaza, where some Fatah members accuse Hamas of involvement in the slaying of a Fatah-allied security chief last week.