Palestinian groups hold more reconciliation talks
Damascus: Representatives of the rival Hamas and Fatah groups met in the Syrian capital Damascus on Tuesday in a second round of talks designed to try and narrow divisions that have damaged the Palestinian cause.
Officials said the talks, the second since September, would focus on the thorny issue of control of the Palestinian security apparatus, which has been divided between the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and the West Bank where Fatah operates.
Fatah is loyal to US-backed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who has had turbulent relationship with Syria's ruling hierarchy.
"We realize that reconciliation is a national Palestinian interest," said a Fatah official, rejecting Hamas accusations that Washington dictated Fatah's moves.
The Fatah delegation included senior intelligence official Majid Farah, while deputy Hamas leader Moussa Abu Marzouk led his group's side.
Journalists were kept away from the talks at a Hamas headquarters, unlike the first meeting in September when the two sides agreed to help revive Egyptian efforts to narrow divisions and made positive statements about prospects for reconciliation.
The security cooperation talks were originally scheduled for October, but were canceled after Abbas and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad exchanged angry words at an Arab summit over "resistance" against Israel.
Syria, a self-declared champion of the concept, hosts the exiled leadership of Hamas, which is also backed by Iran, but is seeking to regain the occupied Golan Heights from Israel through peace negotiations.
Talks between Israel and Abbas's Palestinian Authority broke down when a 10-month partial Israeli freeze on settlement building in the West Bank expired in September.
Izzat al-Rishq, a member of the Hamas politburo, said last week that talks on security cooperation with Fatah could narrow Palestinian divisions but hinted that reconciliation was a long and complicated process.
The dispute between Hamas and the more secular Fatah has resulted in outside players -- Syria, Iran, Egypt and the United States -- exercising unprecedented influence over Palestinian politics.
Palestinian political commentator Ali Badwan said although Egypt, whose relations with Syria have soured, had allowed the talks to be held in Damascus, Cairo still held a large sway over the results through its support for Abbas.
Egypt borders the Gaza Strip, which Hamas has controlled since defeating Fatah forces in 2007, and is helping Israel impose a blockade on the impoverished territory.
"For the Egyptians, Gaza is a national security issue," Badwan said. "They watch Hamas' every move."