Egypt unlikely to reconcile Palestinian groups
By Nidal al-Mughrabi
GAZA, Aug 25 (Reuters) - A new round of Egyptian mediation starting on Monday and aimed at reconciling the rival Hamas and Fatah factions is unlikely to produce a breakthrough, officials familiar with the talks said.
Sharp differences between Egypt and Hamas on two key issues will make it even harder for Cairo to broker a deal between the Islamist group that now rules the Gaza Strip and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah movement, they said.
"Egypt is not happy because Hamas suspended the talks on a Gilad Shalit prisoner swap and Hamas is angry because Egypt remained reluctant to host talks over the reopening of (Egypt's) Rafah crossing with the Gaza Strip," one official said.
Shalit is an Israeli soldier held by Gaza militants since 2006. Hamas and other groups that took part in his capture have offered to trade him for hundreds of Palestinians in Israeli jails.
There has been no apparent progress in Egyptian-brokered efforts to arrange a swap, nor has Cairo made any move -- despite an Israel-Hamas ceasefire since June -- to host talks on reopening Rafah, Gaza's only crossing not on the Israeli border.
Hamas would regard the reopening of Rafah as a major blow to international efforts to isolate it since its seizure of Gaza from Fatah forces more than a year ago.
Hamas said Egypt had not yet invited its leaders to new Palestinian reconciliation talks due to begin in Cairo on Monday with discussions between Islamic Jihad and Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman.
"I do not expect a breakthrough in the current round of talks. I believe the conditions are not ripe and the situation in Gaza and the West Bank does not point to the parties being prepared to reconcile," one of the officials said.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri acknowledged differences with Egypt over the Shalit and Rafah issues but said the group was interested in maintaining good relations with Cairo.
"Egypt hopes to enhance talks over Shalit ... but we do not think it is appropriate to talk about an agreement while the (ceasefire) deal is faltering because of non-compliance by the Israeli occupation," Abu Zuhri said.
Hamas said Israel continued to reject its demand for the release of more than 1,000 prisoners including 450 long-serving detainees.
Hamas says Israel has not done enough to loosen restrictions at Gaza border crossings and increase the flow of people and goods across the frontier.
Israel has said that under the truce, it would gradually allow more goods into the Gaza Strip, easing an economic blockade. It has reacted to sporadic rocket and mortar attacks since the ceasefire took effect by keeping crossings closed.
Another official familiar with the talks said Egypt wanted to speak with groups other than Hamas and Fatah first, because it did not want its mediation to end in failure.
"Egypt wanted to listen to the factions first, in preparation for a wider national dialogue, which could be held after (the Muslim holiday of) Eid el-Fitr (in October)," senior Islamic Jihad leader Khader Habib told Reuters.
Habib also said the factions would urge Egypt, which brokered the June 19 Gaza ceasefire, to put pressure on Israel to meet its obligation to free up the movement of goods.
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