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Hamas, Fatah postpone unity talks

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, of the Fatah party, and Khaled Meshaal, the exiled leader of Hamas, have postponed talks on forming a unity government.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, of the Fatah party, and Khaled Meshaal, the exiled leader of Hamas, have postponed talks on forming a unity government.

The talks were slated to take place on Saturdayin Damascus, where Meshaal lives in exile. Theywere cancelled due to unresolved issues between Fatah and Hamas, which has led the PalestinianAuthority government since winning an election a year earlier,a senior member of one of the factions told the Associated Press on Saturday.

The official, whospoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter,said it was possible there would be a meeting Sunday.

"There are difficulties facing such a meeting and there are current mediations to try and resolve the problems," he added, without elaborating.

The planned meeting — the first between Abbas and Meshaal since July 2005 — brought hopes of an end to the year-long deadlock between the militant Hamas, which controls the Palestinian parliament and cabinet, and Abbas's more moderate Fatah party.

With the two sides unable to agree, tensions have repeatedly exploded into open warfare in the Gaza Strip — a traditional Hamas stronghold. The violencehas claimed the lives of at least 62 people.

But disputes still remain on the toughest issues — control of the two factions' powerful security forces and Hamas' refusal to recognize Israel's right to exist.

Late Saturday, Abbas aide Saeb Erekat refused to confirm there would be a meeting.

"The purpose of this visit is for President Abbas to meet with President [Bashar] Assad, though I'm not excluding the possibility of President Abbas meeting with Mr. Meshaal and other Palestinian leaders in Damascus," he told reporters.

Abbas has threatened to call early elections if the two sides failed to agree on forming a national unity government.

Since Hamas won the January 2006 election, Israel and Western countries have imposed an economic boycott on the Palestinian Authority, demanding that the party renounce violence and recognize Israel's right to exist. Hamas has refused.

Abbas came to Damascus bolstered by Israel's release to him Friday of $100 million in taxes that Israel had collected on behalf of the Palestinian government.

With files from the Associated Press

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