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Fatah and Hamas sign reconciliation deal

SANAA (Reuters) - Rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas signed a Yemeni-sponsored deal on Sunday promising to revive direct talks after months of hostilities, but differences remained over the future of the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh (C in dark suit) looks as Hamas deputy politburo chief Moussa Abu Marzouk (L) and Azzam al-Ahmad, a Fatah leader, shake hands after signing a reconciliation deal between their rival factions at the Presidential Palace in Sanaa March 23, 2008. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

The office of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is also Fatah leader, said Hamas must accept to end its control of the Gaza Strip before any dialogue could take place.

“We, the representatives of Fatah and Hamas, agree to the Yemeni initiative as a framework to resume dialogue between the two movements to return the Palestinian situation to what it was before the Gaza incidents,” a declaration issued by the two delegations after talks in Sanaa said.

The Sanaa Declaration, signed by Hamas negotiator Moussa Abu Marzouk and Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmed, also affirmed the “unity of the Palestinian people, territory and authority”.

The Yemeni initiative calls for the situation in Gaza to return to the way it was before Hamas seized the territory in June after routing forces loyal to Abbas.

The violence left Hamas in control of Gaza and Fatah in control of the West Bank and entrenched divisions as the two movements vied for power and influence among the 4 million Palestinians in the two areas separated by Israel.

“We regard the signing today of the Sanaa Declaration as a new beginning and the start of a new stage,” said Abu Marzouk, whose party won parliamentary elections in January 2006.

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An apparent dispute broke out hours after the signing, with Abbas’s office saying that the talks should be about implementing the Yemeni initiative.

“Resumption of dialogue ... must take place to implement the Yemeni proposal and not to deal with it as a framework for dialogue because this will not lead to any result. We want the implementation of the proposal. We do not want talks over its articles,” it said in a statement.

Fatah had said it would agree to direct reconciliation talks with Hamas only if the Islamist group first agreed to relinquish its hold on Gaza, home to 1.5 million Palestinians.

Hamas rejected the statement.

“Fatah’s comment reflects the presidency’s lack of regard towards dialogue and it gives an impression that its signature is no more than an act of gratitude to the Yemenis,” said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri.

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A Hamas official said on Saturday the group asked that the same condition should apply to the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority has dismissed a Hamas-led unity government and arrested some Hamas supporters.

Despite the differences, Ahmed said he was looking forward to Yemen to set a date for new talks: “We look towards implementing the Yemeni initiative and fostering Palestinian national unity,” he told reporters.

A senior Hamas official said talks would begin on April 5 with the first round being held in the Palestinian territories, but the Palestinian ambassador to Yemen, Ahmad Deek, said Yemen would issue invitations for talks there early next month.

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh had been pressing the Palestinians to begin talks in April and said Sanaa would ask the Arab Summit in Damascus on March 29-30 to endorse the initiative as a joint Arab plan.

Previous Arab-sponsored efforts to reconcile the Palestinians, including a Saudi-mediated deal reached in the Muslim holy city of Mecca in 2007, have fallen by the wayside.

The Yemeni plan, which calls for a return to the framework accords laid in Mecca, the creation of another unity government and the reform of security forces along national rather than factional lines and then holding new Palestinian elections.

Abbas dismissed a Hamas-led Palestinian unity government after the Islamist group seized Gaza in June.

Reporting by Mohamed Sudam; Additional reporting by Wafa Amr and Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Lin Noueihed; Editing by Sami Aboudi