Iranian FM Tells Hamas' Meshal Palestinians Must Work for Unity

Mottaki meets with Hamas political chief in Damascus; Hamas official: Meshal won't attend prisoner swap talks.

Iran's foreign minister told Hamas' political leader Sunday that the Palestinian people must solve their problems through national unity and reconciliation, the official Iranian news agency reported.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manoucheh Mottaki made his remarks during a meeting with Hamas political chief Khaled Meshal at the Iranian embassy in Damascus.

During the meeting, Meshal, who lives in exile in Syria and is backed by Iran, said, "Resistance is the only way for the Palestinian people to regain their rights," according to the IRNA report.

The tensions between the militant Hamas and the moderate Fatah party have escalated in recent months in the Palestinian territories, sparking armed street clashes in which scores have been killed or wounded.

Fatah has advocated recognizing Israel in exchange for a Palestinian state on parts of the West Bank and Gaza. But the ruling Hamas has refused, and talks over forming a power-sharing government have stalled over the issue.

Earlier this month, Israel accused the Iranian government of paying $50 million to Meshal to block a deal that would have freed Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, who was captured by Hamas-linked militants in June. Hamas has called the report a lie.

Mottaki arrived in Damascus on Saturday and delivered a message to Syrian President Bashar Assad about Iraq, the Palestinian territories and Lebanon. The contents of the message were not disclosed.

U.S. officials have accused Iran and Syria of meddling in Iraq's turbulent politics and of arming Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.

Hamas official: Meshal won't attend talks on prisoner swapMeshal will not attend talks held in Cairo on a prisoner exchange involving the release of Shalit, a senior Hamas official said Sunday.

Earlier Sunday, an Egyptian spokesman, who asked not to be named, said Meshal would be in attendance at the meetings over the coming days.

The official said Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman had presented the Hamas leader with the latest version of a proposal to resolve the crisis earlier this month, during his visit to Damascus, where Meshal is based.

"[Meshal] said: 'I will bring an answer when I come to Cairo,'" the official said.

Presidential spokesman Suleiman Awad said Egypt had invited Meshal but did not say when the visit would take place.

"Mr. Meshal has an invitation to come to Cairo... The visit will tackle the issue of the prisoner exchange and the situation in the Palestinian and Israeli arena," Awad said during a news conference Sunday.

Awad added that during the visit Egypt would also push its plan to bring about an agreement on a Palestinian unity government composed of Hamas and Fatah.

Meshal, considered key to any move forward on the issue of Shalit, the likelihood of a Palestinian prisoner release, and the thorny subject of the establishment of a Palestinian national unity government, failed to arrrive Saturday for talks in Cairo with Egyptian negotiators.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said following talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Sunday that an agreement on a Palestinian unity government could be days away, if talks between the Hamas-led government and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas go well.

"He [Abbas] is working very well on the possibility of constructing the elements of a goverment," Solana told reporters. He said he foresaw the Palestinian cabinet to be "a government of experts, a government of professionals."

The Popular Resistance Committees [PRC], a group involved in Shalit's abduction, announced Saturday in Gaza that a resolution would be effected in "a number of days."

Senior Israeli security sources, however, expressed doubts that a breakthrough had been achieved among the Palestinian factions involved and urged caution, highlighting Meshal's absence at the Cairo meeting.