Palestinian Rivals Hamas, Fatah End Yemen Talks Without Power-Sharing Deal

Palestinian factions meeting in Yemen ended on Sunday five days of reconciliation negotiations without agreeing on who will control the Gaza Strip but with a promise to talk further. Almost immediately, however, the two sides disagreed over what they had actually signed.

The Islamist Hamas delegation and the ruling Fatah group signed the San'a declaration in the Yemeni capital saying they "accept the Yemen initiative as a framework for resuming dialogue to restore normalcy" that existed in the coastal region before Hamas' violent takeover of Gaza last June.

Although Sunday's development reflected a failure of this week's Yemen-brokered meetings, it was still a step forward in getting rival Palestinians to start talking to each other.

Abbas said soon afterwards that the Fatah side was only interested in the Yemeni initiative "for implementation," not as a basis for dialogue.

His remarks were an indication that much political wrangling still lay ahead.

"Resuming dialogue in the future will be only to implement the Yemeni initiative in all its articles, and not to deal with it as a framework for dialogue," Abbas said, according to his aide Nabil Abu Rdeneh.

Hamas retorted almost immediately that the initiative by Yemeni President Abdullah Saleh was all about dialogue and could not be implemented immediately, casting doubt on whether any steps towards reconciliation had truly taken place at all.

"Not a single article of the Yemeni initiative can be implemented without coming to an understanding — there should be a dialogue since practically speaking what you demand cannot be implemented," said Hamas delegation head Moussa Abu Marzouk at a press conference in San'a responding to Abu Rdeneh's remarks.

"If this condition remains, then they don't want Palestinian unity," he added.

Hamas spokesman Taher Nunu called on Abbas from Gaza to fire his current prime minister Salam Fayyad and his ministers, to pave the way for a "constructive and sincere dialogue."

The Yemeni initiative calls for the creation of a national unity government and the rebuilding of security forces loyal to a common government rather than to factions. It also calls for Arab states such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Jordan, to form a council to oversee the implementation of the plan.

It was hoped the discussions in San'a would result in Hamas eventually agreeing to renounce its control of Gaza, hand back the control of the Mediterranean strip to the Palestinian Authority and restore a power sharing national unity government.

Saleh, who was present when both sides signed the statement at a ceremony Sunday, said the Palestinian talks would resume in April. He didn't set a specific date, but Palestinian officials close to the talks said the meeting would likely come as early as April 5.

"This is the first round of talks and we will help Fatah and Hamas to reach agreement in the interest of the Palestinian people," pledged Saleh.

For his part, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa welcomed the agreement, apparently agreeing with the Hamas point of view by describing it as the "beginning of a dialogue," and indicated said it was a positive step to heal the rift among the Palestinians.

The Organization of the Islamic Conference also welcomed the agreement and expressed hope it would end the Palestinian divisions.

It appears that the meeting's chief achievement was that the Palestinian factions met face to face for the first time during the signing of the statement after five days of proxy talks with Yemeni officials. Many previous attempts by Arab mediators to bring the Palestinians together had failed.

Hamas and Fatah broke ranks after fighters loyal to Hamas forcibly seized control of Gaza from Abbas' ruling Fatah last June. The clashes between the two shattered a Saudi-sponsored Mecca deal brokered in February, when the two groups agreed to share power in a national unity government.

Hamas won the January 2006 Palestinian elections, but later its leaders differed with Abbas on power sharing and peace with Israel. The struggle climaxed in with Hamas' Gaza takeover, splitting control of the Palestinian territories in two.