Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met with Hamas officials on Friday for the first time since the organization's violent takeover of the Gaza Strip in June of this year.
Abbas's office confirmed that he had met with three Hamas West Bank officials: Faraj Rumaneh, Hussein Abu Quaik and Nasser a-Din al-Shaar, who served in the past as the deputy prime minister and education minister in the Hamas-led unity government.
But Abbas adviser Ahmed Abdel Rahman said that it was not an official meeting and denied that Abbas had invited the three.
Abu Quaik, however, said the three had been invited to prayers by Abbas.
"Everybody in Hamas knew about this," Abu Quaik said. "This will contribute to strengthening our relationship, and lay the basis for national unity, God willing."
Al-Shaar said the group discussed "internal affairs in an open atmosphere" with Abbas, but added that the visit was "not a meeting between Hamas and the president."
According to an Israel Radio report, the four conducted Friday prayers together at a mosque in Abbas's Mukata headquarters in Ramallah. Abbas reiterated to them his previous statements that he would only resume talks with Hamas once it relinquishes control of the Gaza Strip.
On Sunday, Abbas said that Hamas was planning to overthrow the Palestinian Authority government in the West Bank with the help of external forces.
In a press conference earlier this week, Rumaneh and Abu Quaik had distanced themselves from a Gaza counterpart who bragged that the group would eventually take over the West Bank.
The Hamas men met with Abbas to express their "rejection" of their counterparts in Gaza, Abdel Rahman said.
"The members expressed their commitment to the legitimacy and the authority of Abbas...and reiterated their respect for law and order," he continued.
Hamas members in the West Bank have been increasingly cowed since their movement's June takeover in Gaza. After his forces were routed in Gaza, Abbas ordered a clampdown on Hamas in the West Bank, arresting hundreds of members, closing Hamas-linked charities and issuing an anti-money laundering decree meant to dry up donations to the group.
Israeli government spokesman David Baker said Israel objected to any contacts with Hamas.
"It's Israel's position that Hamas should be sidelined and kept out of the game until it accepts the conditions placed upon it by the international community," Baker said. Those conditions are recognizing Israel, renouncing violence, and agreeing to respect past peace agreements. Hamas has refused to meet any of the conditions.
Israel has said that if Abbas renews ties with the group, it will break off peace talks with the Palestinians.
Khaled Abu Toameh contributed to this report.
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