Egypt delays Palestinian unity deal deadline

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CAIRO: Egyptian mediators have delayed their deadline for Hamas to sign a Palestinian unity deal with Fatah after the Islamist group asked for a delay, an Egyptian official said on Friday.

“Egypt (will) postpone the signing of this deal at the current time, the official MENA news agency quoted the official as saying.

The announcement came a day after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party presented a signed copy of the deal on Egypt’s deadline, with Hamas saying it wanted an extension and amendments to the deal.

The official cited the “repercussions between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas because of the dispute on handling the Goldstone report, referring to the controversy over a damning UN report on the Gaza war at the turn of the year.

The official did not give a new deadline for wrapping up the deal, which would lead to a general election agreed on by both Fatah and Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.

Hamas had accused Fatah of “betraying the Palestinian victims of the conflict after the Palestinian delegation at the UN Human Rights Council agreed to have a vote on the report deferred.

The council has taken up the report again, and has endorsed the report on Friday with 25 states of the council voting for the resolution, six voting against and 11 abstaining.

On Thursday, Hamas said it wanted more time to study the reconciliation deal and demanded that it include a clause on the right to resist Israeli occupation.

“Hamas has officially asked Egypt to give it two to three days to complete its internal consultations, the Hamas-run government spokesman Taher Al-Nunu said.

There were conflicting reports that Hamas would sign the agreement on Saturday, but senior Hamas official Mohammed Nasr said the movement needed more time to decide.

“We need more time to study the Egyptian paper. This is a new paper that needs more study; our position has not yet crystallized, the Damascus-based official told AFP.

In Gaza, Hamas leader Mahmud Zahar told Al-Jazeera television that his movement distinguished between signing the deal, which he said it was prepared to do, and reconciling with Fatah.

On Thursday, lead Fatah negotiator Azzam Al-Ahmed said in Cairo after handing the signed deal to Egyptian mediators that Hamas was looking for excuses to delay reconciliation.

He accused an unnamed Arab country of telling Hamas to sign the deal but not implement it. That was a possible reference to Syria, which exerts influence over the Islamists’ Damascus-based political leadership.

The agreement would also see Hamas and Fatah release political prisoners and reform security services with Egyptian and Arab oversight.

Hamas-Fatah tensions date back to the start of limited Palestinian self-rule in the mid-1990s when Fatah strongmen cracked down on Islamist activists.

Months after winning a general election, Hamas expelled Fatah from Gaza in a week of deadly clashes in June 2007, cleaving the Palestinian territories into rival hostile camps.

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