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Cairo holds Palestinian peace talks

Fatah and Hamas kick off reconciliation talks aimed at coming up with a power-sharing agreement.

CAIRO // Rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas kicked off reconciliation talks today aimed at coming up with a power-sharing agreement and eventually holding elections. In televised comments today as the talks opened, Egypt's intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who mediates the discussions, urged all the factions to forget the contentious past. "The Palestinian people are watching the results of these talks, so please do not let them down," Mr Suleiman said. "We are only looking toward the future and your meeting today is the beginning of that path." The Palestinians are divided between the militant group Hamas which controls the Gaza Strip and the Fatah movement of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas which dominates the West Bank. Hamas' violent takeover of Gaza in 2007 led to a deep split between the internationally backed Fatah and the widely shunned Hamas. Overcoming the distrust between the factions is seen as key to moving ahead with reconstruction in Gaza after Israel's recent offensive there. Egypt is expected to mediate 10 days of talks between the factions, although they could extend longer as needed. The officials will work in five committees to talk about forming a unity government, holding new elections, reforming the security services, carrying out confidence-building measures and finding a role for Hamas in the Palestine Liberation Organisation. Other Palestinian factions are also participating in the meetings. The talks come after the western-backed Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, on Saturday submitted his resignation. Mr Fayyad said the move was to facilitate the formation of a national unity government that would reunite Palestinians. Mr Fayyad was appointed prime minister by Abbas in June 2007, following Hamas' Gaza takeover. He announced he will step down once a new government is formed, but no later than the end of March. Previous unity accords have collapsed in mistrust and infighting, but this time both sides appear to have a strong incentive to reach an accord. Hamas needs Fatah's international respectability to help end the devastating blockade of Gaza imposed by Egypt and Israel and obtain foreign funding to rebuild Gaza. Fatah and Mr Abbas, whose popularity took a beating due to his perceived lack of decisiveness during the Gaza war, need to find a way to blunt the challenges from Hamas. *AP

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