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Hamas, Fatah hold talks on Palestinian government

By Staff
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GAZA, Feb 22 (Reuters) Fatah agreed at initial talks with Hamas today to try to find common ground for a governing partnership between the long-dominant Palestinian faction and the militant group that crushed it at the polls.

Fatah has been cool to the idea of joining a government led by its powerful Islamist rival, which swept to victory in the January 25 election on a platform of rooting out corruption in a Palestinian Authority dominated by the mainstream faction.

After talks at a Hamas leader's Gaza home, Fatah's Azzam al-Ahmad, head of its parliamentary faction, said: ''We are in a dialogue that has only just begun and we want to find common ground and we hope that we will seal an agreement.'' Outlining what appeared to be a major sticking point, Ahmad told Reuters that Fatah would insist a Hamas-led administration adopt President Mahmoud Abbas's vision of negotiating peace with Israel.

Hamas's Mahmoud al-Zahar, who hosted the session with Fatah, said the two groups would meet again so that a coalition could be formed ''as soon as possible''.

Hamas, sworn to Israel's destruction, has said talks with Israel would be a waste of time. Israel has said it could not consider dealing with Hamas until the group recognised it, renounced violence and accepted past interim peace accords.

''We do not conduct negotiations with a Hamas Authority. We will reduce contacts with the Authority to those which have a security dimension in order to prevent terrorism,'' an official quoted Israeli interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as telling a parliamentary committee.

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