Efforts to end the ongoing power struggle between Hamas and Fatah have reached a deadlock due to disagreements over several issues, including the holding of presidential and parliamentary elections, Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip said Monday.

Despite the talk about an impasse, however, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal was quoted as saying that he was optimistic about the prospects of ending the rivalry with Fatah.

The contradictory statements are a sign of divisions among the Hamas leadership over the reconciliation process with Fatah.

Earlier this year, Mashaal and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas signed yet another reconciliation pact, this time under the auspices of Qatar.

The latest agreement, dubbed the Doha Accord, envisages the establishment of a Palestinian government headed by Abbas and dominated by technocrats and independent figures. The government is supposed to prepare for holding long overdue presidential and parliamentary elections in the Palestinian territories.

The Doha Accord drew sharp criticism from most Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip, who complained that Mashaal did not consult with them before signing the deal.

In recent weeks Hamas and Fatah announced that they were closer than ever to reaching agreement on the implementation of the Doha Accord. Hamas even permitted the Palestinian Elections Commission to start registering voters in the Gaza Strip – a move that both parties described as a major breakthrough.

They both also claimed that they had made progress in efforts to form a new cabinet that would consist mostly of technocrats.

Last week, however, Hamas abruptly decided to suspend the work of the elections commission in the Gaza Strip, dealing a severe blow to reconciliation efforts.

On Sunday, Abbas said the decision to suspend the work of the commission would hinder efforts to end the dispute with Hamas.

Hamas justified the decision by saying it had good reason to believe that Fatah was planning to steal the vote.

Hamas officials also cited security coordination between the PA and Israel in the West Bank as another reason for the suspension.

Mahmoud Zahar, a senior Hamas official in Gaza who is strongly opposed to Mashaal’s rapprochement with Fatah, said the continued PA security clampdown on his movement’s supporters in the West Bank was an indication that the planned elections would not be fair and free.

Zahar also claimed that Mashaal and Abbas had agreed to form a unity government and not a cabinet dominated by independent figures.

In an interview with the Algerian newspaper Al-Shurouk, Zahar accused the PA leadership in the West Bank of working with Israel and the US to forge the next elections to prevent Hamas from winning.

“The elections are a big deception,” he remarked.

Zahar also charged the elections commission with colluding with Fatah to falsify the results of the vote. He said commission officials had failed to register voters whom they believed were affiliated with Hamas.

In the West Bank, Zahar added, no Hamas candidate would dare run in an election because he or she would be arrested either by Israel or by the Fatah-controlled security forces.

The Hamas leader also boasted that his government was able to pay salaries to civil servants while the PA in the West Bank was facing a severe financial crisis.

“The debts of the Palestinian Authority are the result of corruption,” Zahar said. “We have been able to pay salaries although we don’t receive financial aid from the Americans, Europeans or even the Arab countries.”

Ismail Radwan, a spokesman for Hamas in the Gaza Strip, said the PA security crackdown on Hamas supporters in the West Bank was one of the main reasons behind the failure of the Doha Accord. The elections commission would be allowed to resume its work in Gaza only if Abbas stopped pursuing Hamas supporters and abided by the Qatari-sponsored agreement, he said.

But Mashaal, who is currently visiting Jordan, told reporters in Amman that efforts to achieve reconciliation with Fatah had made significant progress, especially with regard to the formation of a unity government.

He said efforts were under way to arrange another meeting between him and Abbas to discuss ways of overcoming obstacles hindering implementation of the Doha Accord.

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