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Hamas rift shows vulnerability of interim unity government

The National Associated Press


RAMALLAH // A rare public rift broke open yesterday in the usually tightly disciplined Islamic movement Hamas over a reconciliation deal that would require it to relinquish key areas of control in the Gaza Strip.

The deal, brokered by Qatar, was signed last week in Doha by Hamas's top leader in exile, Khaled Mashaal, and the chief of the rival Fatah party, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas. The agreement is to end nearly five years of separate governments - Hamas in Gaza and Mr Abbas in the West Bank - by establishing an interim unity government headed by Mr Abbas that would prepare for Palestinian elections.

Senior Hamas figures in Gaza, who stand to lose most from the deal, said it was unacceptable, while top Hamas loyalists in the West Bank defended the agreement. The argument raised new questions about the ability of Mr Abbas and Mr Mashaal to implement the deal, seen as their best chance yet of healing the rift following Hamas's violent takeover of Gaza in 2007.

Mr Mashaal might be able to put down the unprecedented rebellion against him, but would need the goodwill and cooperation of Hamas leaders in Gaza to make the agreement work.

Mahmoud Zahar, one of the masterminds of the Gaza takeover in 2007, said Mr Mashaal did not consult with others before signing the deal. Giving Mr Abbas the post of interim prime minister is "wrong" and "strategically unacceptable", Mr Zahar was quoted as telling the Egyptian news agency Mena on Saturday.

The criticism of the Hamas leaders in Gaza highlights the vulnerability of the Doha agreement.

Mr Abbas needs to satisfy international demands that the interim government - to consist of politically independent technocrats - is not a front for Hamas. If it is seen as too close to Hamas, the Palestinians would likely lose hundreds of millions of dollars in western aid.

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