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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Fatah, Hamas reach prisoner swap deal

Thu, 26 Feb 2009 10:33:25 GMT | PressTV

Senior Hamas leader
Mahmoud al-Zahar
Rival Palestinian movements Fatah and Hamas have agreed on a prisoner swap deal on the eve of a Palestinian unity meeting in Cairo.

The two rivals late Wednesday reached an agreement on resolving their prisoner issues ahead of Thursday's start of reconciliation talks that may pave the way for forming a unity government.

Palestinian factions have received invitations from Cairo to join the national unity talks scheduled to be held on February 26 in Egypt.

Senior officials of Fatah and Hamas voiced their hope that an upcoming inter-Palestinian national unity dialogue would be held successfully.

The optimistic remarks were made by Hamas' senior official Mahmoud al- Zahar and head of the Fatah parliamentary bloc Azzam al-Ahmed at a joint press conference following their delegations' meeting on Wednesday.

After three rounds of preliminary talks in the past two days between representatives of the two Palestinian factions in Cairo, the two groups agreed to 'halt hostile media campaigns, political arrests and to release a number of detainees held by the two movements', a joint statement by the two officials at the end of the press conference said.

“A certain number of detainees will be freed right at the beginning of the dialogue.”

"Other detainees will be freed successively so that this issue will be totally closed before the end of the national Palestinian dialogue," it said.

Zahar said 80 Hamas members held in the West Bank, which is controlled by the moderate Fatah movement, have been released and that 300 are still being held, AFP reported.

"The climate is positive and promising," Hamas political bureau member also Ezzat Resheq told journalists after Wednesday's talks. "We hope for positive results."

Ahmad cited a "real desire on both sides to settle these questions... to achieve reconciliation, an urgent necessity above all because the (Israel-Palestinian) peace process is not progressing and nor are efforts towards a truce."

Delegations of Fatah and Hamas arrived in Cairo on Tuesday to attend the national unity dialogue hosted by Egypt.

On Wednesday, the acting Palestinian Authority freed 40 Hamas members as a goodwill gesture to the movement.

Hamas had earlier described the release of its members as a key factor in reaching any agreement in the postponed reconciliation talks.

The Cairo talks are meant to bridge the gap between the rival Hamas and Fatah parties, in a manner that would put an end to the current split between Gaza and Ramallah.

Hamas boycotted the inter-Palestinian dialogue, which was scheduled for Nov. 10 in Cairo, in protest at the detention of its members by Fatah forces headed by Abbas.

Tensions between Hamas and Fatah began after Hamas' victory in the 2006 parliamentary elections. Following the elections, Mahmoud Abbas dissolved the democratically elected Hamas government and appointed a Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

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