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(photo credit: AP [file])
Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal's recent visit to Egypt has brought the Islamist movement and Fatah closer to ending their differences, sources close to Hamas in the Gaza Strip revealed on Tuesday.
In another sign of rapprochement between the two parties, Hamas has welcomed plans by senior Fatah officials to visit the Gaza Strip for talks aimed at resolving the crisis.
The Fatah officials who are expected to visit the Strip include Nabil Sha'ath, Jibril Rajoub, Mahmoud al-Aloul and Fakhri Bsaiso.
The sources said that Mashaal has agreed to sign a "reconciliation accord" with Fatah after the Egyptians promised to permanently reopen the Rafah border crossing between Sinai and southern Gaza.
They said the agreement would be signed before the end of the year.
The Rafah terminal has been formally closed since Hamas seized control of the entire Gaza Strip in the summer of 2007. Under pressure from human rights groups and many Arabs, the Egyptians occasionally open the border crossing for a day or two for "humanitarian cases."
Cairo's pledge to reopen the border crossing on a permanent basis is seen as a significant victory for Hamas, which has been struggling hard in the past few years to end the blockade on the Gaza Strip.
According to the sources, Hamas and Fatah are very close to reaching agreement over the reconstruction of the Palestinian security forces under the supervision of Arab countries.
Again, this is seen as an achievement for Hamas, which has long been demanding an end to Fatah's exclusive control over the Palestinian Authority security forces.
Fatah, the sources said, has also agreed to make concessions on three other issues: bringing Hamas representatives into PLO institutions; the release of all Hamas supporters from PA prisons in the West Bank; and the establishment of a unity government that would not be committed to the Oslo Accords, but would only "respect" them.
"The Egyptians said that they would reopen the Rafah border crossing if the two sides signed a reconciliation accord," said a Hamas legislator in Gaza City.
He said that the two parties have yet to reach agreement over the timing of the next presidential and parliamentary elections. He added that Hamas was opposed to holding these elections early next year as requested by Fatah.
"Hamas first wants to see if Fatah will fulfill all its commitments under the planned agreement," he explained. "If we see that Fatah is abiding by the terms of the reconciliation and that the Egyptians have fulfilled their promise to reopen the Rafah terminal, then we can start discussing a date for the elections."
A Hamas delegation headed by Mahmoud Zahar arrived in Cairo on Tuesday for additional discussions on ways of ending the rift with Fatah. The delegation is also expected to hold talks with Egyptian security officials on the prospects of reaching a prisoner exchange agreement that would resolve the case of kidnapped IDF soldier St.-Sgt. Gilad Schalit.
The Hamas delegation is scheduled to visit Damascus later this week to brief Hamas leaders there on the outcome of their talks in Cairo.
This is the second Hamas delegation to visit Cairo in less than a week. Last weekend, Mashaal headed another high-level Hamas delegation that held similar talks with intelligence chief Gen. Omar Suleiman and other senior government officials on the power struggle with Fatah and on the prisoner swap issue.