Hamas' al-Zahar
Photo: AP
Rival Palestinian sides agree to release detainees
Hamas, Fatah attempt to lower mutual tensions, pledge to stop media attacks on each other
The rival Palestinian groups Hamas and Fatah agreed Wednesday to release detainees from both sides, in an attempt to lower tensions during reconciliation talks, officials said.


A deal between Hamas and Fatah is seen as key to moving ahead with Gaza's reconstruction after Israel's recent offensive. The Palestinians hope to raise $2.8 billion at an international donor's conference in Egypt on Monday. But determining how to send aid to Gaza's people is tricky because much of the international community shuns Hamas.


Hamas and Fatah met in advance of Thursday's main talks on more challenging issues like holding elections and sharing power. The two sides met in Cairo for talks mediated by Egypt's intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman.


At a news conference Wednesday night, both sides announced they had agreed on a release of detainees.


"To encourage a positive atmosphere, there will be a complete and immediate end to the arrests of political prisoners ... and the release of prisoners during the discussions," said Hamas' Gaza strongman, Mahmoud al-Zahar. "There will be a larger number released" later.


Goodwill gesture 

There was no information on how many detainees would be freed. In Gaza, Hamas has held some Fatah members under house arrest and others in prisons. In the West Bank, Hamas claims that some 400 of its activists are being detained by Abbas' security forces, many of them without charges.


In a goodwill gesture, Fatah on Tuesday freed 42 Hamas detainees in the West Bank and promised to release more. Leading Hamas figure Izzat Rashaq welcomed that release but said it was not enough.


Unless Fatah releases more detainees, "it will turn to a bomb that would explode in the face of the Palestinian-Palestinian talks," he warned.


Speaking earlier in the day, Nabil Shaath, a top Abbas aide, said the sides also agreed to immediately stop all media attacks against each other.


Azzam al-Ahmed of Fatah said Thursday's meeting will discuss the "political shape and agenda" of a future unity government.


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