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Palestinian rivals move closer to deal Add to ...

Senior Hamas officials indicated Wednesday the Islamic movement will soon sign a reconciliation agreement with the ruling Fatah party of Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas.

The signing of the long-awaited document, brokered by Egypt, would pave the way for full Palestinian elections in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as the prospect of a Hamas or a Fatah-Hamas coalition government.

"The Hamas movement will sign the reconciliation agreement at the end of November," Aziz Dwaik, the Hamas Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council said in an interview published Wednesday by the London-based al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper.

"That's what we're all hoping and heading toward," agreed Ahmed Yousef, Hamas's deputy foreign minister, in an interview Wednesday afternoon in Gaza. The signing would take place "either before the Eid or right after the Eid," he said, referring to the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha, which will occur later this month.

Mr. Abbas, speaking before a midday crowd of several thousand Palestinians Wednesday in Ramallah, called on Hamas to sign the reconciliation agreement.

Only with Hamas's agreement can elections take place in Gaza, and only with Gaza can elections take place at all, he told the people gathered at the presidential compound to mark the fifth anniversary of the death of the former PLO chairman and first Palestinian Authority president Yasser Arafat.

Mr. Abbas, 74, announced last week he will not run for re-election. He has called for a vote on Jan. 24.

The election won't come as quickly as that, said Mr. Yousef, a senior adviser to Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya. It "will be postponed to what we have agreed in the document - that is, it's going to be in June, not January."

They are "hoping that that, also, will help to stabilize the Palestinian situation, to end the tension between Fatah and Hamas," he added.

"An election in June is in the best interest of everybody - for Fatah and Hamas and the rest of the Palestinian community," Mr. Yousef said.

"Hamas will decide after the election - it depends on the outcome of the election, what percentage Hamas will get and so on - we might think about joining in a national unity government."

Whether Hamas participates in a unity government also "depends on what the world community will say - if they're going to insist on the Quartet's three conditions" for dealing with Hamas.

The Quartet -the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations - has said it will deal with Hamas only if the Islamic organization renounces violence, recognizes Israel's right to exist and accepts all previous agreements entered into by the PLO and Palestinian Authority. Hamas has declined to formally accept the terms.

After the June election, Mr. Yousef said, "we would like the world community to engage with the [new]government, whether Hamas is in it or not.

"We want the world community to engage with Hamas because we are representing, if not the majority of the Palestinian people, then half of the population, and there's not going to be a peaceful settlement of the conflict if you're going to ignore Hamas," he said.

Mr. Yousef said Hamas will take its case to the international community, emphasizing that its people have carried out no suicide attacks since 2006 and have attempted several unilateral ceasefires, including the current one between Hamas and Israel.

"We in Hamas have said we will accept a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders and, as an extra bonus, we're talking about a truce for 20 years.

"If you don't have … bloodshed for 20 years, that means the people will find the magic solution for their suffering and for their conflict. Maybe they come up with, after these 20 years, with a one-state solution, a bi-national state," he suggested. "Because this Palestine is a very tiny place and I can't contemplate there are going to be many states within the Holy Land."

But, after 20 years of harmony, Mr. Yousef said, he's confident the people themselves will find a way "to live together as we used to through the history."

"This Holy Land accommodated Christians, Jews and Muslims all these 5,000 years," he said.

Asked how he would try to convey this approach to leaders such as Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Mr. Yousef was clear.

"We're going to tell him that it's time to be fair, because, in any conflict, if you take sides and do not have an even-handed policy, that means you will be considered part of the conflict.

"We know of Canada as taking part in the blue helmets and as part of the United Nations and helping to solve the problems," he said. "Now we are seeing Canada giving Israel all kinds of support and keeping blaming Hamas and the Palestinians. This is unfair and it doesn't help the Canadian interests."

He insisted the comment was not a threat: "It's just that the Muslim community all over the world is very attached to al-Aqsa mosque and so on, and I don't think Canada would like to be seen by the Muslims all over the world as being part of the aggressor."

Mr. Yousef said he was not interested in running in the June election. In fact, he said, he was looking forward to getting out of government and perhaps working with a think tank instead.

"I'm looking forward to living in my country, and dying in peace in my country," he said.

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