* Palestinian leaders set to meet later on Wednesday
* Recent thaw in relations has produced scant progress
* Disputes over elections and prisoner release persist
CAIRO/GAZA, Jan 9 Separate meetings between
Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi and the leaders of Palestinian
factions Hamas and Fatah in Cairo on Wednesday yielded no signs
of progress towards healing their five-year feud.
Palestinian and Egyptian officials said Mursi met President
Mahmoud Abbas of the secular Fatah group and Khaled Meshaal of
the Islamist Hamas movement to discuss how to implement a
reconciliation deal that they agreed in Cairo in 2011.
Egyptian mediators had hoped to coax all three into the same
room, and a Palestinian source told Reuters that Abbas and
Meshaal would meet later in the evening, but without the
Speaking after Mursi's meeting with Abbas, Egyptian
presidential spokesman Yasser Ali gave no indication of any
major progress but said Cairo would spare no effort to bring
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri played down the talks in
Cairo, describing them as "exploratory".
"Egyptian officials aim to explore where things stand and
look into the best ways to activate reconciliation efforts," he
Abbas is reluctant to accept any format that would imply
giving the Hamas leader a status equivalent to his own.
Mursi, mired in political and economic difficulties at home,
helped broker a ceasefire deal that ended a war in November
between Israel and Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.
Leaders of the two groups have been deadlocked over the how
to implement the agreement and have traded blame over continued
arrests among members in the West Bank, where Abbas holds sway,
and in Gaza, which Hamas wrested from Abbas's control in 2007.
On Tuesday, a Hamas court sentenced a senior Fatah armed
activist, Zaki al-Sakani, to 15 years in prison for possession
of weapons, according to Hamas security sources. A Fatah
official described the verdict as a blow to reconciliation.
Hani Habib, a political analyst in Gaza, said the Cairo
talks, like previous meetings, had little chance of success.
"The talks today were meant to show something regarding
reconciliation is happening but there will be nothing new," he
said. "Each side has been unable to twist the other's arm and
therefore each is happy with the status quo."
THAW IN RELATIONS
The Palestinian rivals have drawn closer since Israel's
assault on Gaza in November, in which Hamas claimed victory, and
a diplomatic win by Abbas the same month in which the United
Nations voted to recognise Palestine as a "non-member state".
The Egyptian-drafted agreement called on both sides to form
a unity government that would oversee an election and reform the
Abbas-led Palestine Liberation Organisation to include Hamas and
the less influential Islamic Jihad group.
Abbas says Hamas is obstructing election registration in
Gaza, while Meshaal says the pact needs to be implemented as a
whole, with Hamas prisoners in West Bank jails released.
A senior Hamas official in Gaza accused Abbas of dragging
his feet on reconciliation and slowing its pace because he was
still hoping for a renewal of stalled peace talks with Israel.
"Our information showed that President Abbas would head
towards reviving negotiations with the occupation (Israel) when
the election in Israel is finished," Salah al-Bardaweel said in
Israel will hold a parliamentary election on Jan. 22.
It has criticised Palestinian unity efforts, fearing that
grassroots support for Hamas, deemed a terrorist group by the
Jewish state and Western governments, could overwhelm Abbas's
administration, which has long renounced violence against