Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met in his office in Ramallah on Saturday with a senior Hamas delegation and discussed with its members ways of ending the dispute between his Fatah faction and the Islamist movement.

The meeting is the first of its kind between Abbas and Hamas representatives in more than a year.

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The meeting follows Abbas’s recent offer to visit the Gaza Strip for talks with Hamas leaders on achieving Palestinian unity. The offer has divided Hamas leaders. While some have welcomed it, others have announced that Abbas was unwelcome in the Gaza Strip.

The Hamas delegation that met with Abbas consisted of Abdel Aziz Dweik, Nasser Eddin al-Shaer, Mohammed Abu Tair, Samir Abu Eisheh, Ayman Daraghmeh, Abdel Rahman Zeidan and Wasfi Qabaha.

Abbas briefed the Hamas officials on his initiative, saying it was aimed at discussing the formation of a new government that consists of independent figures to prepare for presidential and legislative elections and rebuild the Gaza Strip.

Abbas was quoted as saying: “We must deal with the changes in the region and confront together the challenges facing the Palestinians, first and foremost the continued Israeli aggression and threats to launch a fresh attack on the Gaza Strip.”

Abbas told the Hamas officials that it was important to abide by a cease-fire “so as not to give Israel an excuse to pursue its threats and to tackle the difficult internal situation facing the Palestinian cause, especially with regards to the September deadline [when the Palestinians are scheduled to seek UN recognition of a Palestinian state].”

The Palestinians, he stressed, must be united ahead of the September deadline. “No peace would achieve the aspirations of our people – to establish an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital – without ending the division [with Hamas] and achieving national unity,” Abbas added.

Dweik, who is the most senior Hamas representative in the West Bank, called for an end to the “media war” between Fatah and Hamas. He said the talks focused on Abbas’s offer to visit the Gaza Strip, which he welcomed as a positive initiative.

“Palestinians are fed up with the division,” Dweik said. “Something needs to be done to rearrange the Palestinian home and assess the political situation.”

He said that the process of reconciliation would begin with Abbas’s visit to the Gaza Strip, after which “it would take its natural path.”

Last week, Hamas refused to receive a Fatah delegation that was supposed to visit the Gaza Strip to prepare for Abbas’s arrival, Azzam al-Ahmed, a top Fatah official in the West Bank, said over the weekend. The delegation later visited Cairo to brief Egyptian government officials and the Arab League on Abbas’s initiative to end the split dispute with Hamas.

Dweik described the talks with Abbas as “candid and positive.” He expressed hope that Abbas would be able to travel to the Gaza Strip in the near future. 

Al-Ahmed, the Fatah official, also described the talks as positive and “thorough.” However, he said that until now Hamas has not taken “practical steps” that would enable Abbas to visit the Gaza Strip.

Al-Ahmed said that despite “negative” statements issued by Hamas spokesmen in response to Abbas’s offer, “we will not despair and we will continue to make direct and indirect efforts to ensure the success of the initiative and end the state of division.”

Nabil Abu Rudaineh, a spokesman for Abbas, said that Abbas’s initiative to achieve reconciliation with Hamas has won the backing of the Arab League, the Islamic Conference, the UN, the EU, Russia and Qatar.

He described the initiative as a “roadmap” designed to end divisions among Palestinians. He also urged Hamas to accept the offer.

Ismail al-Ashqar, a Hamas representative in the Gaza Strip, said that while his movement welcomed the initiative, it does not want a “protocol visit” by Abbas. “Abbas’s visit to the Gaza Strip must have a defined goal,” he emphasized. “The visit should be preceded by goodwill gestures such as the release of Hamas supporters from Palestinian prison.”

The Hamas official warned that a “protocol visit” by Abbas at this phase would only deepen divisions in light of the absence of mutual trust between Hamas and Fatah.

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