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Hamas and Fatah agree to release political prisoners

Aug. 7, 2011 2:02 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 9, 2011 9:24 A.M.)
CAIRO (Ma'an) -- Hamas and Fatah have agreed to release all political prisoners after meeting in Cairo on Sunday to discuss the reconciliation deal signed in April, official Palestinian news agency WAFA reported.

The two factions also agreed to the formation of a committee to issue passports to Gaza residents before the end of Ramadan, as well as forming a task force to reopen institutions which were shut down in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as a result of political animosities.

The agreement "is important because it is a reassuring message to the Palestinian people, and it reflects the seriousness of both parties in implementing it," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zahri said in Gaza.

A committee would also be formed to "ensure the opening of closed institutions in both the West Bank and Gaza," Zahri added.

Head of Fatah delegation to the meeting Azzam Al-Ahmad told Ma'an that another meeting is due to be held between the two Palestinian factions at the beginning of September to discuss the key issues of security and governance.

“Today’s meeting was very successful and has restored vitality to the reconciliation agreement. The two parties have confirmed they will continue with the agreement,” Al-Ahmad said.

"We will begin with steps that are related to residents lives, like the prisoners’ issue in Gaza and the West Bank."

The official described the two parties as pleased with current progress, saying 80 percent of prisoners had already been released. He acknowledged, however, some political prisoners remain behind bars.

"So we agreed on the necessity to totally end this issue before the Muslim holiday of Eid Al-Fitr," he said, referring to the closing celebration of the holy month of Ramadan, to be held in 2011 on August 30 or 31.

Hamas and Fatah had met in Cairo on Sunday morning to discuss ways to implement the reconciliation agreement.

Ahead of the meeting, the parties held consultative talks on Saturday evening in the presence of Egyptian intelligence officials.

Fatah's delegation was headed by central committee member Azzam Al-Ahmad and Hamas were represented by senior official Mussa Abu Marzuk.

Fatah central committee member Sakher Bseisso had said the parties were set to discuss issues arising from the reconciliation agreement signed in Cairo.

The agreement was set to end years of hostility between Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, and Fatah, which leads the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

But attempts to form a unity government stalled over a leadership row, as Hamas rejected Fatah's nomination of PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to lead the new government.

The PA announced in July that it would hold municipal elections in the West Bank in October, and blamed Hamas for blocking efforts to prepare for the vote in Gaza.

The Central Elections Committee said Hamas prevented its staff from working in Gaza by closing the committee's offices and confiscating its cars.

But Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri responded that the committee should have been reformed according to the principles of the reconciliation agreement.

Bseisso said Sunday that reconciliation should not be dependent on the issue of elections.

He said the issue of forming a unity government was not related to local elections, adding that the formation of the elections committee would not be the mandate of a unity government.

Fatah officials Mahmoud Al-Aloul, Zakaria Al-Agha and Amin Maqboul, and senior Hamas members Izzat Ar-Rishiq and Khalil Al-Hayya attended the meeting.

AFP contributed to this report
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