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Thursday, May 5, 2011     GET REAL

Abbas at signing of Hamas unity deal: 'State of Palestine must be born this year'

CAIRO — Rival Palestinian factions have signed an agreement to form a national unity government in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in an effort to declare a state this year.


Representatives of 13 Palestinian factions, mainly Fatah and Hamas, signed the accord during a ceremony in Cairo on May 4. Officials said Fatah and Hamas would continue negotiations on aspects of the national unity government as well as holding elections by mid-2012.

"The state of Palestine must be born this year," Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who also heads Fatah, said.

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Under the accord, the implementation of which would be monitored by Egypt, the Palestinian Authority would hold presidential and parliamentary elections over the next year in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In the interim, Fatah and Hamas would share power and each would remain over their regions. Hamas captured the Gaza Strip in 2007.

"Four black years have affected the interests of Palestinians," Abbas said. "Now we meet to assert a unified will."

Fatah delegation chief Azzam Al Ahmad, who signed the accord, said the Palestine Liberation Organization, rather than the PA, would be responsible for any negotiations with Israel. Al Ahmad said Hamas would not be involved in talks with the Jewish state, rather Fatah's partner in the formation of a security council. He said the council would be authorized to organize what he termed a "professional" security force.

"The government's role is limited to administrative affairs dealing with the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip," Al Ahmad said.

Officials said Abbas and Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Masha'al would meet in mid-May to launch negotiations. During the ceremony in Cairo, Masha'al refused to sit on the podium with Abbas.

"We will have a meeting with President Abu Mazen [Abbas] next week, possibly in Cairo to kick-start the procedures for the reconciliation," Hamas deputy political bureau chief Mussa Abu Marzouk said.

Since the reconciliation agreement, Israel has frozen $105 million in tax revenues meant for the PA and transported to the Gaza Strip. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called on PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to cancel the accord with Hamas.

"The agreement between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas is a hard blow to the peace process," Netanyahu said in a meeting with Quartet coordinator Tony Blair. "How is it possible to achieve peace with a government, half of which calls for the destruction of the state of Israel and even praises the arch-murderer Osama bin Laden?"

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