Syria's Assad Seeks to Seal Fatah-Hamas Reconciliation

Syrian President Bashar Assad is expected to host Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas this week, and to complete the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation process, following an agreement between Assad and Saudi King Abdullah last week. Reports in the Arab media said that Assad will try to arrange a meeting between Abbas and the head of Hamas political bureau, Khaled Meshal, to persuade the latter to sign the reconciliation agreement formulated during recent talks in Egypt.

A Palestinian source close to Abbas told Haaretz, however, that, "Abbas will not meet with Meshal before Meshal signs the accord, but it doesn't matter where it's done - in Egypt or Damascus."

Meshal met yesterday with the emir of Qatar, Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, who also urged the Hamas leader to sign the document, so that the political process can move forward.

Syria sees promotion of a Palestinian summit and of Fatah-Hamas reconciliation as an important means to leverage its position as a senior partner in the Middle East negotiations, after a long period in which it was sidelined by Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United States. If Syria can help to accomplish the reconciliation, observers say, this will pave its way to a better relationship with Washington and to the appointment of an American ambassador to Damascus.

Yesterday more details of the Egyptian plan, presented in Washington on Friday, emerged at a press conference held by Egypt's foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit.

Speaking after a meeting with intelligence minister Omar Suleiman, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary for Defense Robert Gates, Aboul Gheit said that an agreement had to be reached, before formal talks with Israel, on the size of the Palestinian state.

"Arabs and Palestinians will never agree to see Palestine on territory which is smaller than it had, according to the 1967 borders," he said. "If the United States agrees to this principle, Israel will have to make a decision between territorial exchange and evacuating settlements."

The Egyptian plan also envisages Jerusalem as an "open city," without a wall between East and West Jerusalem.

Aboul Ghait said he doesn't see the possibility of a U.S.-Egyptian-Israeli-Palestinian summit before there is agreement on the size of Palestine.