No accord between Hamas and Abbas on new government for Palestinians
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – The Palestinian president and prime minister, heading rival movements, on Monday failed again to agree on a joint government that might lead to lifting Western sanctions that have bankrupted their administration – but they planned to keep trying.President Mahmoud Abbas, a moderate, and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas met in Gaza for more than two hours, but officials said the talks ended with no accord on a national unity government made up of independent experts. Both sides said talks would continue Tuesday; they would not say what issues remain open.Mustafa Barghouti, an independent politician playing a key role in the talks, called the meeting “fruitful.” He said, “There was agreement on some issues, but some issues still need to be discussed.”The talks came as fighting in northern Gaza heated up on the sixth day of an Israeli offensive. At least seven Palestinians were killed, including a suicide bomber.Islamic Jihad released a video of the bomber, identified as Mirvat Masoud, after she blew herself up, wounding an Israeli soldier. “My dear mother, I ask you to remain strong and forgive me, and God willing, we will meet in heaven,” she said on the video. Only a few of the more than 100 Palestinian suicide bombers in the past six years were women.An Israeli missile aimed at a group of militants landed near a Palestinian kindergarten, killing a teenage boy, critically wounding a teacher and seriously wounding eight children, doctors said.The army said an airstrike in the same area targeted four militants coming to collect launchers used to fire rockets into Israel.Abbas has been urging Hamas, which controls most government functions, to join his Fatah movement in a coalition to end international sanctions. The platform of the emerging government is vague about the key international demand of recognizing Israel and may not be enough to end the painful aid boycott.Negotiators and officials in Hamas, which has repeatedly rejected the international conditions since winning legislative elections in January, said an agreement on forming a government was imminent.”We are getting closer and closer toward a deal. Without having a strong opportunity for this deal, Abu Mazen would not have come,” Barghouti said. Abbas is also known as Abu Mazen.Under the emerging plan, the Hamas Cabinet and prime minister would step down and be replaced by a team of experts in hopes of ending the Western boycott, imposed when Hamas came to power in March.However, top Hamas leaders have yet to decide whether to accept the plan, and similar negotiations have broken down before.The new proposal would enable Hamas to appoint eight ministers and Fatah would choose four, with the remainder of the portfolios awarded to smaller parties. The new prime minister would be chosen by Hamas.A top Hamas official in Damascus, Moussa Abu Marzouk, said Haniyeh would not lead the new Palestinian government.Abbas has urged Hamas to choose an independent, in order to make the new government more attractive to the international community, Abbas aides have said.Hamas’ supreme decision-making body, the secret Shura Council, is to decide in the coming days whether to accept the proposal.Wasfi Kibha, a Hamas Cabinet minister, told the AP ahead of Monday’s meeting that the sides have reached an agreement in principle but need to wrap up important details.Whether the government would meet the international demands remained unclear. The Quartet of Mideast peacemakers – the U.S., the European Union, the United Nations and Russia – demands that any Palestinian government renounce violence, recognize Israel’s right to exist and accept past peace deals.Western donors, led by the U.S. and EU, have cut off hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Hamas-run Palestinian Authority. Israel also has suspended vital tax transfers to the Palestinians.Without the funds, the Palestinian government is mired in a cash crisis, largely unable to pay the salaries of some 165,000 employees and causing widespread hardship in Gaza and the West Bank.The latest round of talks moved ahead despite the Israeli offensive in northern Gaza border, aimed at halting Palestinian rocket fire on Israeli communities near the coastal strip.More than 50 Palestinians, most of them militants, have been killed in Israeli airstrikes and shelling.The offensive has drawn growing international criticism, but Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the military would press on.In Cairo, Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar called for an urgent gathering of Arab foreign ministers to discuss the deteriorating situation in the Gaza Strip. Zahar met with Arab League representatives.