Mahmoud Abbas authorizes Egypt to talk with Hamas
(dpa) - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of the Fatah movement authorized Egypt to hold talks with rival Palestinian faction Hamas on several issues, an aide to Abbas said on Saturday.
The issues include reinforcing a ceasefire between armed Palestinian groups in the Hamas-ruled Gaza and Israel, according to Nabil Shaath, Abbas' representative in Egypt.
Shaath added that opening the borders between Egypt and Gaza, brokering a prisoner exchange between Hamas and Israel and resuming talks between Hamas and Fatah were also among the topics.
According to Shaath, "Fatah monitors and supports these talks which were also discussed between Abbas and Egyptian, Jordanian and Saudi leaders."
Hamas seized control of Gaza Strip by force in June and routed the security forces of Abbas. Since then, Israel imposed a tight closure on the coastal territory which Hamas has ruled, ignoring decisions by Abbas.
Israel also increased military attacks against the Gaza Strip in response to rocket fire from the area amid Egyptian mediation efforts aimed at securing a state of calmness.
Earlier Saturday, a Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat confirmed that Abbas would meet Israeli Premier Ehud Olmert on Monday.
Peace talks, the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the Israeli closure of the Gaza Strip were the key issues that the two leaders were scheduled to discuss, Erekat said.
The settlement activities violate "Israel's commitments under the first phase" of the US-backed Road Map peace plan which calls for the immediate suspension of settlement expansion, Erekat added.
Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) revived the negotiations at a US-hosted conference in November.
The upcoming meeting will be the first since Abbas suspended his biweekly meetings with Olmert in early March in protest at an Israeli army operation in the Gaza Strip.
Also Saturday, a Palestinian farmer was killed and another injured in an Israeli artillery strike in the north-eastern Gaza Strip, medical sources said.
Sources at the Gaza Strip's Kamal Adwan Hospital said the farmer, Ra'fat Mansour, 35, was dead on arrival while a relative named only as Mohammed suffered moderate wounds.
The sources said the dead man was hit by shrapnel. According to the injured man, a tank shell landed in the farmer's field east of Jabaliya refugee camp.
Palestinian security sources said Israeli special forces entered the area east of Jabaliya and exchanged fire with Palestinian militants. The Israeli firing of shells that resulted in the death of the farmer was connected with the operation, the sources said.
The areas alongside the security fence which separates between Gaza and Israel witness almost daily exchanges of fire between the Israeli army and the militants.
In another development Saturday, 12 Palestinian militants were reported to have escaped overnight from a prison in the West Bank town of Nablus.
The prisoners are believed to be members of the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, the armed wing of President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement.
Islamic Hamas movement on Saturday denied targeting Israeli children and women with rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.
"Hamas doesn't mean to kill children with its rockets," spokesman Ismail Radwan told reporters in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip in response to a statment by the number two leader of the al-Qaeda terrorist network Ayman al-Zawahiri who said Hamas' random rockets kill women and children in violation of Islamic law.
Radwan added that "the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians may involve some killing of children," accusing the Israeli army of "deliberately killing children, women and destroying houses and mosques."
Local Palestinian media reported that al-Zawahiri's statements appeared on an Islamic website as part of responses he sent to readers' questions