The signing of a Palestinian reconciliation agreement set for October 25 has been postponed for "several weeks", according to Egypt's foreign minister. Ahmed Aboul Gheit would not name the Palestinian faction who requested the delay, but the Islamist Hamas group on its Web site said it was postponing the agreement because of the Palestinian government's withdrawal of support from a report condemning Israeli attacks on Gaza.
Egypt has been working on reconciling the two Palestinian rivals since 2007 so that a unified front can be presented in the stalled peace talks with Israel. After months of false starts, there finally appeared to be progress last week with the announcement of a reconciliation deal, until the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas withdrew his support from the UN's Goldstone report. The Goldstone report accuses Israel of using disproportionate force and failing to protect civilians during its winter assault on Gaza while calling Hamas' firing of rockets at civilian areas in southern Israel a war crime.
The report recommended that the Security Council require both sides to carry out credible investigations into alleged abuses during the conflict, in which 13 Israelis and almost 1,400 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians, were killed. Israel has vehemently rejected the war crimes allegations. The US has called the report deeply flawed and said it disagrees with many of its assessments, and Mr Abbas was under pressure from the US to suspend the report.
Mr Abbas' repudiation of the report has been widely condemned by not just Hamas, but many Palestinians. US President Barack Obama's Mideast envoy, George Mitchell, met with Egyptian officials today, including the foreign minister, in an effort to move forward Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. *AP