Morsi to meet Palestinian rivals

Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi plans to meet the leaders of Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah on Wednesday in a renewed effort to help them heal their five-year-old feud, Palestinian and Egyptian officials said.

But there was no confirmation President Mahmoud Abbas of the secular Fatah group and Khaled Meshaal of the Islamist Hamas movement would meet face to face, and a unity pact reached in Cairo last year has yet to be implemented.

The officials said Mursi would meet separately with Abbas and Meshaal to discuss the stalled reconciliation deal, and Egyptian mediators hoped to coax them into the same room.

Abbas is reluctant to any format which would imply giving the Hamas leader a status equivalent to his own. Mursi, grappling with political and economic difficulties at home, helped broker a ceasefire deal that ended a brief war in November between Israel and Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.

Leaders of the two groups have been deadlocked over the unity 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 arms, according to Hamas security sources. A Fatah official described the verdict as a blow to reconciliation.

The Palestinian rivals have drawn closer since Israel's assault on Gaza in November, in which Hamas claimed victory, and a diplomatic win by Abbas the same month in which the United Nations voted to recognize Palestine as a "non-member state."

Supporters of the two factions were allowed to hold anniversary rallies in Gaza and the West Bank for the first time since their split, though the celebrations produced no concrete signs of how reconciliation might be implemented. Last year's Egyptian-drafted agreement called on both sides to form a unity government that would oversee an election and reform the Abbas-led Palestine Liberation Organisation to include Hamas and the less influential Islamic Jihad group.

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