Cairo, 28 Safar 1434/9 January 2013 (Aljazera/MINA) – The leaders of Fatah and Hamas are scheduled to meet in Cairo with the Egyptian president in the latest round of reconciliation talks between their long-divided factions.
A spokesman for Mohamed Mursi’s office said the Egyptian leader will mediate Wednesday’s talks between Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority (PA) president, and Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal.
The two factions signed a reconciliation deal in Cairo in mid-2011, but the main points of the agreement have not been implemented.
Officials from Hamas and Fatah said Wednesday’s talks would focus on setting up a unity government, which would pave the way for long-overdue parliamentary and presidential elections.
The parties have been at odds since 2006, when Hamas won a majority of seats in legislative elections. Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in 2007.
Ties have slowly begun to improve, with Hamas recently allowing Fatah to start holding rallies in Gaza, and PA allowing Hamas supporters to do the same in the West Bank, which they control.
It is too early to say whether the modest concessions foreshadow more meaningful political reconciliation.
The Hamas delegation will also meet with Egyptian intelligence officials to discuss the ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.
Egypt negotiated the truce that ended an eight-day Israeli military offensive in November in the Gaza Strip, which left more than 150 Palestinians and six Israelis dead.
This will be the first time Mursi hosts a meeting between the two Palestinian leaders.
But there was no confirmation President Mahmoud Abbas of the secular Fatah group and Khaled Meshaal of the Islamist Hamas movement would meet face to face, and a unity pact reached in Cairo last year has yet to be implemented.
Mursi to meet Abbas and Meshaal separately
The officials said Mursi would meet separately with Abbas and Meshaal to discuss the stalled reconciliation deal, and Egyptian mediators hoped to coax them into the same room.
Abbas is reluctant to any format which would imply giving the Hamas leader a status equivalent to his own.
Mursi, grappling with political and economic difficulties at home, helped broker a ceasefire deal that ended a brief war in November between Israel and Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.
Leaders of the two groups have been deadlocked over the unity agreement and have traded blame over continued arrests among members in the West Bank, where Abbas holds sway, and in Gaza, which Hamas wrested from Abbas’s control in 2007.
On Tuesday, a Hamas court sentenced a senior Fatah armed activist, Zaki al-Sakani, to 15 years in prison for possession of arms, according to Hamas security sources. A Fatah official described the verdict as a blow to reconciliation.
The Palestinian rivals have drawn closer since Israel’s assault on Gaza in November, in which Hamas claimed victory, and a diplomatic win by Abbas the same month in which the United Nations voted to recognise Palestine as a “non-member state.”
Supporters of the two factions were allowed to hold anniversary rallies in Gaza and the West Bank for the first time since their split, though the celebrations produced no concrete signs of how reconciliation might be implemented.
Last year’s Egyptian-drafted agreement called on both sides to form a unity government that would oversee an election and reform the Abbas-led Palestine Liberation Organisation to include Hamas and the less influential Islamic Jihad group.
Abbas says Hamas is obstructing election registration in Gaza, while Meshaal says the pact needs to be implemented as a whole, with Hamas prisoners in West Bank jails released.
A senior Hamas official in Gaza accused Abbas of dragging his feet on reconciliation and slowing its pace because he was still hoping for a renewal of stalled peace talks with Israel.
“Our information showed that President Abbas would head towards reviving negotiations with the occupation (Israel) when the election in Israel is finished,” Salah al-Bardaweel said in a statement.
Israel will hold a parliamentary election on Jan. 22.
Israel has criticised Palestinian unity efforts, fearing grassroots support for Hamas, deemed a terrorist group by the Jewish state and Western governments, could overwhelm Abbas’s administration, which has long renounced violence against Israel.
Hani Habib, a political analyst in Gaza, said the Cairo talks, like previous meetings, had little chance of success.
“The talks today were meant to show something regarding reconciliation is happening but there will be nothing new,” he said. “Each side has been unable to twist the other’s arm and therefore each is happy with the status quo. (T/R-012/R-20/R-006)
Mi’raj News Agency (MINA)