Palestinians urge leaders to unite government

THOUSANDS of people thronged squares in the Gaza Strip and West Bank to plead with their leaders to end the long-running feud that has divided the Palestinian people between two rival governments.

Demonstrators for each side hoisted banners urging their leaders to unite a government that split after Hamas militants seized control of Gaza in June 2007, leaving Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of the Fatah Party ruling only the West Bank.

Reconciliation attempts have failed and yesterday’s marches seemed unlikely to bring the sides together as neither Fatah nor Hamas seem inclined to relinquish the power they have. But if the campaign gains strength, it could pressure the rival governments to restart talks.

Hamas is waiting to see how the situation in neighbouring Egypt evolves. The group hopes the next Egyptian government will ease or lift a crippling blockade of Gaza, which would strengthen Hamas and boost it in any negotiations with Fatah.

Speaking to his government in Gaza, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said it was time for the sides to meet and set aside their differences. He called on Fatah leaders begin the process of reconciliation.

Fatah spokesman Ahmed Assaf rejected the offer yesterday. “This call of Hamas for unity is not serious, it's rather a way to bypass the people’s movement aimed at ending the split. Hamas turned down several initiatives for unity and if it was serious, it would have accepted these initiatives rather than calling for more talks.”

The pro-reconciliation demonstration originally was organised by independent activists on Facebook. But Fatah and Hamas jumped on the bandwagon, and clearly dominated yesterday’s rallies.

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