DAMASCUS (AFP) — Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has met Palestinian leaders based in Damascus, excluding the political chief of the rival Hamas movement, a member of his delegation said on Monday.
The meetings aim "to restore order in the Palestinian house. But Mr Abbas will certainly not meet (Hamas leaders)," the official told AFP, asking not to be named.
On Monday, Abbas held talks with Ramadan Abdallah Shalah, who heads the radical group Islamic Jihad, but not Hamas political supremo Khaled Meshaal, who like Shalah is also exiled in Syria.
Abbas, head of the secular Fatah faction, met separately late Sunday with Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine leader Nayef Hawatmeh and with Maher Taher of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, quoted in the goverment daily Tishrin, said his country was trying to find common ground between the Palestinian factions.
"We are looking for a common platform between the Palestinian movements and the Authority (which Abbas heads) with a view to launching a dialogue for reconciliation and the unification of Palestinian ranks," he said.
In a meeting with Abbas on Sunday, President Bashar al-Assad stressed "the need to exert every effort to achieve unity among Palestinian ranks as the sole means to recover their rights."
Meshaal's Hamas movement seized power in Gaza a year ago during deadly fighting with Fatah forces loyal to Abbas, effectively splitting the Palestinians into two entities.
Last month Abbas called for talks with Hamas, breaking with his previous position that the movement must relinquish power in Gaza before any negotiations can take place.
But Abbas's spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina ruled out any meeting between Abbas and Meshaal in Damascus, although he stressed that the Palestinian president's offer for talks with Hamas was still on the table.
Hamas has criticised the decision.
Abbas was also expected to hold talks later on Monday with Ahmad Jibril, secretary general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, before winding up his visit to Damascus on Tuesday.
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