Fatah, Hamas agree on unity government

Rival Palestinian groups Fatah and Hamas agreed Thursday to form a unity government during crisis talks aimed at ending bloody factional warfare.

Officials from Fatah and Hamas agreedduringcrisis talksThursday to form a unity government following weeksof violence between the rival Palestinian factions.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal and Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyehhave been holding talks in Saudi Arabiasince Tuesday aimed at ending bloody factional warfare and shaping acoalition government.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, left, listens to Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, right, during their meeting in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on Thursday. ((Suhaib Salem/Associated Press))

Previous efforts to stem the bloodshed and find common political ground have resulted in short-lived ceasefires. More than 80 Palestinians have been killed in the internal fighting since December.

Announcing the agreement at the ceremony, Abbas aide Nabil Amr read a letter in which Abbas designated Haniyeh todraw up the new government within five weeks
according to the formula agreed on in the talks.

Abbas said the deal would "satisfy our people … and bring us to the shores of peace. … This initiative has been crowned with success."

Mashaal said the accord "will unify our ranks. There is a commitment and unity. We will preserve this partnership."

The rival factions have been deadlocked since Hamas won the Palestinian Authority election in January 2006, taking away controlof the cabinet and legislature from the long-dominant Fatah party.

The talks, mediated by Saudi King Abdullah inMecca, resulted in an agreement on the distribution of cabinet positions, with nine posts going to Hamas andsix to Fatah.

Three keyministries —foreign affairs, finance and interior, which controls security — will be held by independents. Haniyeh will stay on as prime minister.

In Jerusalem, the CBC's Peter Armstrongreported that while the deal includesa promise thatthe new governmentwill "respect" previous peace deals with Israel, it makes no mention of recognizing Israel's right to exist — something Hamas had previously refused to do, even though international donors held back millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians in protest.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, left, and President Mahmoud Abbas shake hands after a previous agreement was reached in December 2006. ((Associated Press))

"There is a major hole … but it does appear to be a breakthrough," Armstrong saidlate Thursday.

International conditions

An Israeli government spokeswoman said late Thursday that the new Palestinian government must accept all three international conditions — renouncing violence, recognizing Israel and accepting past peace accords.

Spokeswoman Miri Eisinwould not say whether Israel believes the guidelines of the new government fulfill those demands.

Western nations, including Canada,have imposed a financial blockade on the Palestinian government because of Hamas's refusal to renounce violence and to recognize Israel and previous agreements signed between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel.

Abbas, a moderate who was elected separately in 2005, started negotiating with Hamas last fall in the hope that a coalition government would enable the West to lift the boycott and allow the return of aid money. By then, thousands of Palestinians had gone unpaid for months.

With files from the Associated Press