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PLO may be preparing for showdown with Hamas

Published Dec. 2, 2006

The Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, convened the Palestine Liberation Organization's top decision-making body on Friday amid growing signs of a possible political showdown with Hamas, the faction that leads the Palestinian government.

Negotiations between Abbas' Fatah faction and its main rival, Hamas, toward a Palestinian unity government have been going on for months. But Abbas told Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Thursday that the negotiations had reached a "dead end."

After the session on Friday, one PLO member, Samir Ghosheh, said that Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who is from Hamas, a militant Islamic group, should resign to make way for a new unity government.

However, Nizar Rian, a senior Hamas leader, called on Abbas "to be rational and return to the negotiating table," adding, "We are serious about a national unity government, but that doesn't mean getting rid of Hamas."

Fatah and Hamas had agreed in principle on a unity government made up of professionals and technocrats. But they have not been able to agree on how to divide ministerial positions. There is no clear way out of the standoff if they don't reach an agreement.

Abbas could dismiss the government, led by Haniyeh and Hamas, and install a new one. But a new government would need approval from the parliament, which is dominated by Hamas.