Friday, February 13, 2009

Egypt, Turkey call for Palestinian reconciliation


ISTANBUL (AFP) — The leaders of Egypt and Turkey said Wednesday that reconciliation between the two main Palestinian groups was crucial to establish a lasting truce in Gaza after Israel's deadly operation.

"Israel's attack would have been out of the question if there were no divisions and disagreements among the Palestinians," Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak told a new conference after talks with his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul.

"I underlined (to Gul) the importance we attribute to national Palestinian reconciliation because the interests of the Palestinian people are above reconciliation between the groups," he said, through a translator.

Egypt has stepped up contacts with envoys from Israel and the Islamist movement Hamas running Gaza, seeking a durable truce.

Both sides called separate ceasefires on January 18, following Israel's 22-day offensive on Gaza which killed around 1,330 Palestinians.

But progress towards a permanent ceasefire has been slow despite repeated announcements of imminent success.

The Egyptian truce plan also calls for Hamas and Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas's Fatah movement to reconcile and form a government that would be acceptable to the international community.

But the two movements have been deeply divided since Hamas wrested control of Gaza from Fatah in 2007, a rift that has widened since the Israeli offensive.

Hamas has also called for an alternative to the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) -- recognised internationally as the sole representative of the Palestinian cause since 1974 -- that would include itself and the radical Islamic Jihad group.

Mubarak said the PLO -- in which Fatah is the most powerful member -- must be maintained.

"This organization is the only legitimate representative of the Palestinian people," he said.
Gul meanwhile said Turkey would continue to support Egypt's efforts to establish a permanent truce in Gaza and help reconcile Palestinians.

"It is vital to have unity among Palestinians and Arabs," he said, with a new government coming to power in Israel following elections and a new administration in Washington.
Both leaders also called for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip. Cairo is holding an international aid conference for the war-battered territory on March 2.

One of Israel's few Muslim allies, Turkey has been strongly critical of the deadly assault on Gaza and has actively sought a ceasefire, shuttling between exiled Hamas leaders and Egyptian officials.

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