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Abbas, Mashaal meet Mursi, hold side-talks

Jan. 9, 2013 9:34 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 10, 2013 4:38 P.M.)
CAIRO (Reuters) -- Egyptian President Muhammad Mursi held separate meetings with the leaders of Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah in Cairo on Wednesday, before the political chiefs sat together later in the evening.

Palestinian and Egyptian officials said Mursi met President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah and Khalid Mashaal of Hamas to discuss how to implement a reconciliation deal that they agreed in Cairo in 2011.

Egyptian mediators had hoped to coax all three into the same room, but Abbas and Mashaal held another meeting of their political factions later in the evening at a Cairo venue.

Speaking after Mursi's meeting with Abbas, Egyptian presidential spokesman Yasser Ali gave no indication of any major progress but said Cairo would spare no effort to bring about reconciliation.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri played down the talks in Cairo, describing them as "exploratory".

"Egyptian officials aim to explore where things stand and look into the best ways to activate reconciliation efforts," he told Reuters.

Abbas is reluctant to accept any format that would imply giving the Hamas leader a status equivalent to his own.

Both sides brought senior officials to the talks, with Fatah leader Azzam al-Ahmad, presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina, intelligence chief Majed Farraj, and Palestinian ambassador Barakat al-Farra joining Abbas' delegation.

From Hamas, senior figures Moussa Abu Marzouk, Izzat al-Rishq, and Khalil al-Hayya were among the delegates.

Mursi, mired in political and economic difficulties at home, helped broker a ceasefire deal that ended a war in November between Israel and Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.

Leaders of the two groups have been deadlocked over the how to implement the agreement and have traded blame over continued arrests among members in the West Bank, where Abbas holds sway, and in Gaza, which Hamas wrested from Abbas's control in 2007.

On Tuesday, a Hamas court sentenced a senior Fatah armed activist, Zaki al-Sakani, to 15 years in prison for possession of weapons, according to Hamas security sources. A Fatah official described the verdict as a blow to reconciliation.

Hani Habib, a political analyst in Gaza, said the Cairo talks, like previous meetings, had little chance of success.

"The talks today were meant to show something regarding reconciliation is happening but there will be nothing new," he said. "Each side has been unable to twist the other's arm and therefore each is happy with the status quo."

Ma'an staff in Bethlehem contributed to this report
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