DAMASCUS // A senior Hamas official in Syria today announced that his group would boycott this weekend's Palestinian reconciliation talks with its rival Fatah. The deputy Hamas leader Moussa Abu Marzouk blamed Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas for the talks' collapse. He said the group's decision to stay away was taken after Fatah failed to release Palestinian prisoners from its jails. The talks were to start in Cairo, Egypt, tomorrow.
The two feuding sides were expected to discuss forming a joint government, rebuilding security forces and setting a date for presidential and legislative elections. Mr Abu Marzouk said Fatah had reneged on a pledge to release Hamas prisoners it holds ahead of the dialogue, prompting the boycott. He acknowledged that many issues had been settled but that the prisoners issue was too important to disregard.
"Going there [to the talks] is not a target in itself. The target is to reunite Palestinian groups," Mr Abou Marzouk said. He also said Egypt's "vision" for reconciliation "does not represent the Hamas point of view". He did not elaborate. The Fatah delegation, already in the Egyptian capital on the eve of the talks, expressed shock at Hamas' decision. "This decision is unwise ... it shows that Hamas doesn't want a solution. I think that the consequences will be very dangerous," said Ahmed Abdel Rahman, a member of the Fatah team in Cairo.
"We are shocked by this decision. It shows that Hamas is irresponsible when it comes to the fate of the Palestinian people." Mr Abbas' spokesman, Nabil Abu Rdeineh, said Hamas' pretext for staying away was "unacceptable". Hamas reportedly wants the release of some 500 Palestinians it says Fatah is holding in its jails. The Egyptian foreign ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki confirmed the talks had been cancelled because of the Hamas boycott and said a statement would be issued soon.