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Palestinians suspend talks on unity government

Written by: Staff

GAZA, Nov 20 (Reuters) Rival Palestinian factions suspended negotiations over the formation of a unity government today after disagreement emerged over the distribution of key ministries, Palestinian officials said.

President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah was said to have walked out of the talks in Gaza in anger after Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, a senior leader of Hamas, said he wanted his group to retain the coveted finance and interior ministry posts.

Fatah wants independent ''experts'' to take them over.

''The talks are suspended,'' Nabil Amr, Abbas's media adviser, told reporters in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

''The only progress that was achieved during the thousand hours of dialogue was the agreement on the prime minister,'' he said, confirming that Mohammad Shbair, the former head of the Islamic University in Gaza, had been the candidate.

Hamas officials, keen to avoid creating the impression of a crisis, would only go so far as to say that talks had run into serious obstacles, avoiding the phrase ''suspended''.

''The talks are continuing and they have gone a long way down the road,'' said Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman.

A Fatah negotiator said no further talks had been scheduled ''until some points are clarified''.

The suspension of negotiations is the latest twist in months of on-off talks between Abbas and Haniyeh to try to form a coalition government that they hope will succeed in lifting eight months of Western financial sanctions.

The United States and European Union cut off direct aid to the Palestinian Authority in March after Hamas won elections.

Hamas, an Islamist group that is sworn to Israel's destruction, is listed as a terrorist organisation by the U.S. and EU.

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