Abbas and Mashaal in Cairo to end Fatah-Hamas schism

Palestinian groups reach agreement in principle ahead of formal signing; Egyptian intelligence chief meets with top Palestinian Islamist.

By OREN KESSLER
May 4, 2011 01:55
3 minute read.
Senior Palestinian faction leaders in Gaza, Monday

Palestinian factions on bus 311 R. (photo credit: Reuters)

 
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Fatah and Hamas will sign a reconciliation agreement in Cairo on Wednesday, ending a four-year feud between the two main Palestinian movements that remain ideologically and geographically divided.

Izzat al-Rishq, a Hamas spokesman, said all Palestinian factions and independent Palestinian politicians met in Cairo on Tuesday to discuss the agreement, brokered by Egypt and initialed last week.

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“[After] all the factions [have] signed today and tomorrow, we will celebrate the reconciliation under Egyptian patronage,” he told Reuters, adding that both Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas politburo chief Khaled Mashaal would be in attendance.

Abbas – the head of Fatah, the largest faction in the PLO and the PA – was expected to speak at the ceremony.

Mashaal, based in Damascus, arrived in the Egyptian capital Sunday. On Monday he met with the head of Egyptian intelligence Mourad Mowafi, the Al-Ahram website reported. The meeting would have been unthinkable before February’s ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, an ardent opponent of Hamas’s parent organization the Muslim Brotherhood.

Israel has been watching developments in the Palestinian arena with trepidation.



Shlomo Brom, director of the Program on Israel-Palestinian Relations at the Institute of National Security Studies, expressed his concerns in a policy paper on Tuesday.

“Israel and the US will have to decide whether there are only risks latent in this agreement – mainly the risk of Hamas taking over the PA, including the West Bank – or if there are opportunities,” Brom said.

“If the agreement is a result of Hamas weakness, and not a sign of its strength, it is worth examining whether it is possible to create a situation whereby the president of the PA and the government of technocrats continue to maintain their present relationship with Israel, and Hamas is forced to swallow this and cooperate with a process that is ultimately liable to threaten it,” he added.

A day before the reconciliation gathering in the Egyptian capital, smaller Palestinian factions signed a reconciliation deal on Tuesday to show their backing for the rapprochement.

“Fatah and Hamas will sign with full names tomorrow in a signing ceremony celebrated by all,” one Palestinian official said.

Diplomats said foreign and Arab dignitaries, including EU Foreign Policy chief Catherine Ashton and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, were also invited to the ceremony.

However, a press officer at the EU mission in Cairo said Ashton was in New York, and therefore unable to attend.

Britain on Monday embraced the impending reconciliation agreement.

“We welcome the reconciliation and the work done by Egypt,” Foreign Secretary William Hague told reporters in Cairo after meeting Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Elaraby. “Of course, lots of details have to be worked out, and we will have to judge everyone by their actions and intentions. We will continue to work closely on this.”

Hague also met the head of Egypt’s ruling military council, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, and interim Prime Minister Essam Sharaf.

The interim PA government – which officials said would consist of independent technocrats, with no affiliation to either main faction – is, under the reconciliation deal, to prepare for parliamentary and presidential elections within a year.

Egypt’s state-run MENA news agency said that Hamas and Fatah will release prisoners held by each side, and start talks on setting up the new government after the ceremony.

Egypt has said it will help oversee the implementation of the accord.

The accord calls for creating an interim unity government for the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, instead of the separate administrations led by Fatah and Hamas.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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