Hamas, Fatah at odds on talks

The Baltimore Sun

JERUSALEM -- A Hamas official in Gaza said yesterday that his organization was holding unofficial talks with representatives from the rival Fatah movement, as tension between the factions continued to simmer. Fatah officials deny that any such dialogue is taking place.

An adviser to Ismail Haniyeh, the deposed Palestinian prime minister of Hamas, said that the talks had been authorized by the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, but that so far they had not led to any breakthrough. The adviser, Ahmed Youssef, also assailed Abbas, saying that he had a "very weak personality" and easily caved in to pressure.

After Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in June, routing Fatah forces there, Abbas fired Haniyeh and the unity government he had led. Abbas named a new caretaker government to govern from the West Bank. Hamas does not recognize the legitimacy of the new government and continues to govern in Gaza.

A Fatah spokesman, Ahmed Abdel Rahman, said that Youssef's statement had "no basis in truth" and that Fatah's position was clear: There would be "no dialogue with the perpetrators of the coup."

An official in Abbas' office said that Hamas was "begging" for talks with Fatah but that there would not be any "until Hamas apologizes and reverses everything it has done" in Gaza. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media.

Some figures in Fatah are known to favor the resumption of a dialogue to end the internal crisis. But Israel has made it clear that its growing ties with the West Bank administration of Abbas are contingent on his "keeping Hamas out of the game," in the words of David Baker, an Israeli government spokesman.

Against the backdrop of the power struggle between Hamas and Fatah, medical unions in Gaza started yesterday three days of work stoppages in the hospitals, for two hours a day. The health workers are protesting the Hamas health minister's recent dismissal of the Fatah- affiliated director of Gaza's main hospital, Al Shifa, and the dismissal and arrest of a senior doctor there, also affiliated with Fatah.

The doctor, who had refused to take orders from the Hamas health minister, has since been released. The unions issued a statement accusing Hamas forces inside the hospitals of interfering with administrative affairs "under the threat of guns."

A spokesman for the Hamas Executive Force, a paramilitary police force, said his men were present in the hospitals "to restore discipline and order."

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