Hamas, Fatah begin fourth round of unity talks in Cairo

Hamas, Fatah begin fourth round of unity talks in Cairo Gaza City/Cairo - Rival Palestinian factions of Hamas and Fatah began a fourth round of Egyptian-brokered unity talks in Cairo Monday. The latest round of talks comes amid renewed US efforts to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and US special envoy George Mitchell recently completed diplomatic tours of the region, and US President Barack Obama last week met with Jordan's King Abdallah in Washington.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Egyptian President Hosny Mubarak are expected to visit Washington in the coming weeks, the White House said last Tuesday.

But in the absence of a national unity government, it is unclear who would represent the Palestinians in negotiations with the Israelis.

Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, and Abbas' Fatah, which controls the West Bank, have failed to come up with a government of "national unity" in three previous rounds of talks brokered by Egypt's intelligence service three times before.

Talks have faltered over, among other issues, the political platform of a provisional national unity government intended to represent Palestinians until elections scheduled for January 2010.

Hamas has refused to join any government that recognizes the state of Israel and renounces violence. The so-called Middle East Quartet, an informal group including the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and Russia, has made it clear that a Palestinian government must accept these conditions to gain international recognition.

Hamas has instead backed an Egyptian compromise that would create a high council to liaise between its government in the Gaza Strip and Fatah's government in the West Bank.

Ali Baraka, a Hamas official, said his movement "would put forward new interim proposals that would satisfy all the parties, including Fatah and the Egyptian mediators" in the new round of talks.