Khaled Abu Toameh , THE JERUSALEM POST
Hamas and Fatah representatives are scheduled to resume "reconciliation" talks in Cairo on Sunday in what is being described as a last-chance attempt to solve the power struggle between the two groups.
The talks, which come amid increased Hamas-Fatah tensions, are being held under the auspices of Egyptian Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman, who is hoping to convince the rival parties to agree to the formation of a Palestinian unity government.
Representatives of the two sides held three rounds of talks in Cairo over the past few months, but failed to reach agreement on the proposed unity coalition and other issues related to general elections, the status of the Palestinian security forces, PLO reforms and the future of the peace process.
Suleiman is expected to meet with the Hamas and Fatah delegations before the beginning of the talks to urge them to do their utmost to end their differences, sources close to the two groups said.
Hamas and Fatah spokesmen said over the weekend that the prospects of achieving progress during the upcoming round of talks were slim. They pointed out that the gaps between them remained as wide as ever and that neither side was willing to soften its stance.
The spokesmen denied a report in the Saudi Okaz newspaper, according to which Egypt had threatened to end its mediation efforts if the two sides failed to reach an agreement in the coming days.
Nabil Amr, the Palestinian Authority ambassador to Egypt, hailed Egypt for its "patience" in dealing with the two parties. He added that Fatah was keen on ending the rift to avoid internecine fighting and called on Hamas to display flexibility and realism.
"The regional and international situation required all Palestinian parties not to waste time," Amr said. He also criticized Iran for meddling in Palestinian affairs by supporting Hamas and threatening Egypt's national security by setting up Hizbullah cells in the country.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum described the upcoming meeting as the most difficult since the beginning of the dialogue with Fatah.
"The talks have been stalled because of the failure of the last session of negotiations [in Cairo]," Barhoum said. "The main obstacle has been the fact that Fatah is continuing to represent the pro-Israeli American agenda during the talks."
He added that another challenge facing the negotiators was the massive crackdown on Hamas supporters in the West Bank by security forces loyal to PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
"The issue of political detainees remains at the top of our agenda," Barhoum noted. "Fatah made a big mistake when it thought that it would be able to cripple Hamas and bring it to its knees by detaining leaders and supporters of Hamas."
Ismail Radwan, a Hamas official in the Gaza Strip, accused Fatah-dominated security forces in the West Bank of waging a campaign of arrests against Hamas supporters. He said the talks in Cairo would not succeed as long as Hamas supporters and members were still in Abbas's jails.
Radwan also called ongoing security coordination between PA security forces in the West Bank and Israel an "obstacle" to achieving a breakthrough.
In response to Fatah's demand that Hamas accept all previous agreements signed with Israel, Barhoum called on Fatah to "liberate" itself from American and Israeli control.
Fathi Za'reer, a Fatah spokesman in the West Bank, accused Hamas of arresting scores of Fatah members in the Gaza Strip in a bid to foil the talks in Cairo.
He said that Hamas militiamen had arrested Mahmoud Qanan, a senior leader of Fatah's youth organization, the shabiba, in the Gaza Strip on Saturday.
Also on Saturday, Hamas's security forces summoned three top Fatah operatives for interrogation, Za'reer said. The three were identified as Jamal Obeid, Mohammed Matar and Iyam al-Matlan.
The Fatah spokesman called the move the latest in a series of "provocations" by the Islamic movement to thwart Egypt's mediation efforts.
"More than 30 Fatah supporters have been summoned for interrogation by Hamas since the beginning of the week," Za'reer said. "Many of them were tortured during interrogation."