Image: Palestinian protest
Eyad Baba  /  AP
Palestinian security force officers loyal to Hamas stand guard Thursday as demonstrators protest against the closure of the borders by Egypt and Israel, at the Rafah border crossing in the southern Gaza Strip.
updated 3/19/2009 7:27:23 PM ET 2009-03-19T23:27:23

Egyptian-mediated talks between the rival Palestinian groups Hamas and Fatah broke up Thursday, without a deal on a national unity government, participants said.

The break-up of the talks came just two days after negotiations in Cairo between Hamas and Israel over a prisoner swap ran aground.

The deadlock in both negotiating tracks raises questions about plans by the international community to rebuild parts of Gaza, devastated in Israel's recent military offensive against Hamas. Gaza's borders have been virtually sealed since Hamas seized the territory by force in June 2007, and international aid groups have said reconstruction of the war damage is impossible without open borders.

Israeli officials repeatedly have said the Gaza blockade would not be lifted until militants there free Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit, who was taken captive in 2006. But the failure to reach a prisoner swap deal — Schalit in exchange for 1,200 Palestinian prisoners in Israel — could also hamper efforts to cement a truce between Israel and Hamas, leaving the danger of another sudden round of fighting.

Outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said excessive demands by Hamas had brought the Egyptian-mediated prisoner swap talks to deadlock. He said efforts would continue, but there appeared to be no chance for a deal before he leaves office by the end of this month.

The breakdown in talks also come as Israeli Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu is putting together his government, which is expected to be a hard-line team with less inclination to meet Hamas demands.

No date for new round
In the Palestinian unity talks, Hamas and its moderate Fatah rivals were trying to agree on the terms of a joint coalition for an interim unity government that would set the stage for elections by January.

The key sticking point was the program of the new government. Another unresolved issue is to what extent Hamas would abide by past accords with Israel.

Fatah negotiators said the new government must commit to the program of the PLO, which recognized Israel in 1993. Hamas refuses to recognize Israel, and only wants the new government to "respect" the PLO commitments. Earlier this week, Egyptian envoys sounded out U.S. and European diplomats about whether they would be willing to accept something less than a commitment to the PLO agreements.

After the break-up Thursday, Hamas official Fawzi Barhoum reiterated that his group will not agree to "commit" to the accords or recognize Israel.

Samir Ghosheh, a negotiator for a tiny PLO faction, said Egyptian mediators told the Palestinian representatives on Thursday to pack their bags. The Egyptian hosts did not set a date for a new round, he said. Negotiations had begun last week.

"Personally, I don't think there will be a resumption of talks unless there are clear indications that the problems will be solved," said Ghosheh.

However, Fatah's Azzam al-Ahmed said the talks will continue after an Arab summit at the end of March.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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