Senior Hamas and Fatah officials met secretly on Sunday to discuss infighting in the Palestinian territories unleashed after Hamas established its special security force in the Gaza Strip.
Fatah's Preventive Security Service head Mohammed Dahlan and Hamas' Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and PA Interior Minister Said Siyam participated in the meeting.
The officials approved agreements already reached by the factions, including the absorption of the Hamas' security force into the Palestinian police and its redeployment in the Gaza Strip.
The sides also agreed that Rashid Abu Shabak, commander of the Preventative Security Service and a close friend of Dahlan, will serve as commander of "internal security" - an umbrella force that will oversee civilian police, the preventative force and emergency civilian services.
Under the agreement, Abu Shabak will be subordinate to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, but will work in coordination with Siyam. Other security services - including the Palestinian National Security and PA intelligence - will be placed under the control of Abbas and have no connection to the Hamas government.
Hamas: We will reach deal on prisoners' plan by Monday Senior Hamas officials expect to conclude negotiations between Palestinians factions on a diplomatic plan supporting a two-state solution, known as the prisoners' document, by Monday evening.
Two Hamas parliamentarians, Ahmed Bahar and Ibrahim Dahfur, said Sunday that 98 percent of the disagreements over the plan have been ironed out.
The plan drawn up by Hamas and Fatah activists jailed in Israel calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, and implicitly recognizes Israel. Abbas initially gave Hamas 10 days to accept the plan or face a national referendum. The deadline was extended however, and the factions began negotiations on the plan.
Earlier on Sunday, representatives of both Fatah and Hamas in Gaza said they had reached an agreement on 15 out of the 18 points in the prisoners' document.
The three remaining points of the plan left to discuss concern central issues in Israeli-Palestinian relations.
The first relates to the status of the PLO - the umbrella organization to which Fatah belongs and has dominated for decades - as the only legitimate body for holding negotiations with Israel.
The second point concerns the right of the Palestinian people for armed resistance only within the borders of the occupied territories.
The third disputed issue relates to the question of holding a referendum on future agreements with Israel.
The representatives also said that the parties have made significant progress on the question of recognizing international decisions and the decisions by the Arab League on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
At a 2002 conference in Beirut, the Arab League made the unprecedented offer of recognizing Israel in return for a complete Israeli withdrawal from all territories captured in the 1967 Six-Day War.
Fatah recruits 4,000 men ahead of possible clash with Hamas While Fatah and Hamas officials reached agreements on Sunday meant to quell factional infighting, the Preventive Security Forces in Gaza and other centrist Fatah forces under the command of Dahlan recently recruited over 4,000 young Palestinians to their ranks in anticipation of a potential confrontation with Hamas.
About 2,500 men volunteered for Fatah's Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades and Al-Asifa in the southern Gaza Strip, while the remainder will serve as rank-and-file soldiers in the Preventive Security Forces.
The largest new force was created in the southern Gaza Strip, in the Rafah and Khan Yunis area. Al-Asifa ("the storm," which took its name from Fatah's military force of the 1960s-80s) is under the command of Abd Al-Rauf Barbah, an officer from the Preventive Security Forces who is considered a "very colorful" figure in Gaza. He recruited 1,500 young men who underwent basic arms training. His forces were not, however, involved in the battles near the force's headquarters in Rafah, which Hamas attempted to take over.
Dahlan's Preventive Security Forces is on the front lines of the Fatah fighting with Hamas. A few of the forces' senior officers have been killed or injured recently in defensive actions. In the most recent incident, Hamas militants ambushed the forces' local commander in Khan Yunis, Rifat Kulab, shooting and wounding him. They later went to his home and set it on fire.
In the past two months, two groups, of 750 fresh recruits each, underwent basic training at the force's Tel al-Hawa base before being absorbed into the new "operational force" that is under the authority of the preventive forces. Rashid Abu Shabak, one of Dahlan's closest friends, is the commander of the preventive forces.
An additional 800 young men from the northern Gaza Strip - Beit Lahia, Beit Hanun and the Jabalya refugee camp - were absorbed into an independent force that will become the Fatah's reserve unit. They were also trained at Tel al-Hawa.
Rumors are circulating in Gaza concerning the source of the funds for training the new soldiers, but neither it nor the exact connection of Dahlan to the new military frameworks is clearly defined. All the commanders are thought to be close to him. But he denies all connection to the activities of the preventive forces or to Al-Aqsa. However, the Hamas posters in Gaza denouncing the former commander's continuing connection to the forces speak for themselves.
Palestinian sources say the recent signups are not connected to the reinforcement of Abbas' presidential guard.
Meanwhile, talks between Fatah and Hamas on the prisoners' document, which calls for Israel's return to the '67 borders, are continuing. The speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Sheikh Aziz Dweik, said Saturday that the organizations could reach an agreement within two days.
Haniyeh said Saturday that the talks were held in a very positive atmosphere and expressed his hope that a resolution would be possible within a few days. He said a "marathon meetings" being held in order to solve the crisis.
Other senior Hamas leaders also said extensive efforts are being made to resolve the crisis between the two organizations. Hamas parliament member Yunis Al-Astal said he expects the formation of a Palestinian national unity government within the coming days.
"[Hamas] say they're besieged, but Arafat [and Fatah were] besieged... but never did anything to provoke civil war, and we never stopped salaries either," Dahlan said in an interview published Saturday in The New York Times, in which he discussed a meeting between Abbas and Haniyeh last Wednesday.
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