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Pro-Hamas newspaper back on sale in West Bank in new unity step

Senior Fatah official Azzam Al-Ahmed (2nd L), head of the Hamas government Ismail Haniyeh (3rd L) and senior Hamas leader Moussa Abu Marzouq
Senior Fatah official Azzam Al-Ahmed (2nd L), head of the Hamas government Ismail Haniyeh (3rd L) and senior Hamas leader Moussa Abu Marzouq

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - A pro-Islamist newspaper was sold in the West Bank on Saturday for the first time in seven years, another sign of a Palestinian unity pact that prompted Israel to suspend peace talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

His Palestinian Authority (PA) permitted printers to roll out the tabloid, "Falasteen", Arabic for Palestine, three days after Hamas Islamists in control of Gaza allowed a leading West Bank daily to be sold in their midst.

Abbas's Fatah movement and Hamas announced a unity pact on April 23, with the stated aim of forming a joint government in five weeks, angering Israel and spurring it to shelve already faltering peace talks soon after.

Hamas rejects Israel's existence and both the Jewish state and United States regard the group as a terrorist organization. It seized Gaza from Fatah forces in a brief 2007 civil war.

The Palestinian Authority exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank, which Palestinians loyal to Abbas now seek, along with Gaza and East Jerusalem, for an independent state.

Israel captured all three areas in the 1967 Middle East war, but withdrew from Gaza in 2005.

Iyad Al-Qara, director general of Falesteen, said its reappearance in the West Bank was "a positive and important step towards pushing reconciliation forward."

The newspaper was last sold in the West Bank in 2007 when ties ruptured over Hamas's bloody seizure of control in Gaza, while Fatah retained control in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Al-Quds, the biggest-selling Palestinian daily in the West Bank, resumed sales in Gaza on Wednesday. The newspaper is printed in East Jerusalem and includes articles critical of a wide spectrum of political parties.

Abbas met Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Qatar earlier this week in a further step to bolster the latest of a series of efforts to heal the Palestinian political rift.

Deep mistrust and enmity have scuppered previous deals, with both sides struggling to reconcile Hamas's commitment to fighting Israel with Abbas's choice to negotiate with it.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Ali Sawafta in Ramallah, writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan, editing by Mark Heinrich)

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