Hamas chiefs wrestle with split on Palestinian pact

Unity deal with Fatah hits snag with Hamas hardliners; Gaza Hamas leader concludes "successful" visit to Iran.

By REUTERS
February 13, 2012 18:54
2 minute read.
Haniyeh and Meshaal [file]

Haniyeh and Meshaal 390 R. (photo credit: REUTERS/Suhaib Salem)

 
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GAZA - The two top Hamas leaders failed at secret talks in Qatar on Sunday to resolve an internal crisis over a reconciliation pact with the rival Fatah movement of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, a diplomat in the region said Monday.

The first open leadership split in the 25-year history of Hamas - the militant, Iranian-funded organization which opposes a peace treaty with Israel - arose over how far it should go in closing ranks with Fatah.

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"Khaled Mashaal and Ismail Haniyeh met last night in Qatar to discuss the dispute in Hamas over the Doha agreement," the diplomat told Reuters, naming the two main figures in the organization.

Mashaal has recently quit his longtime Damascus headquarters, politically embarrassed by Syrian President Bashar Assad's bloody crackdown on an uprising waged by fellow Sunni Muslims. Haniyeh flew to Qatar from Iran, Syria's ally and a sworn enemy of Israel and its Western supporters, which was displeased by Mashaal's refusal to stay and support Assad.

The two Islamist leaders are not, however, on opposing sides of the internal dispute in Hamas, but are trying to resolve differences in its collegial leadership between Mashaal and Gaza-based group leaders close to Haniyeh, analysts say.

"The crisis persists," the diplomat told Reuters after the Qatar meeting. He asked not to be identified.

Hamas and Fatah have been enemies since their armed factions fought in Gaza in 2007, splitting the Palestinian national movement in two. Both movements have been saying for over a year that it is high time to end their divisive and damaging rivalry. But so far they have failed to make a deal that will stick.

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Some in the top ranks of Hamas believe that with Middle East peace talks now on the rocks, the recent rise of Islamist movements in the Arab world gives them more leverage over Western-backed Abbas than they have ever had.

But Hamas leader-in-exile Mashaal, with close ties to Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, sees it as a time for accommodation rather than confrontation, together with subtle policy adjustments to end Hamas's isolation.

Mashaal and Abbas signed a pact in the Gulf state of Qatar last week, according to which Abbas would lead an interim government of technocrats with the task of preparing for overdue presidential and parliamentary elections later this year.

Haniyeh, the Hamas leader in Gaza, backed the deal but other senior Hamas figures in Gaza were vocally opposed, pitching the movement into a rare open dispute.

Haniyeh flew to Qatar from Iran, where he met leaders of the Islamist Republic. Relations have soured in past year over the lack of public support from Hamas for their common ally Assad in his handling of Syria's uprising.

A statement from Haniyeh said Iran reaffirmed its support for the Palestinian people "and by all means to reinforce the steadfastness and resistance against the (Israeli) occupation."

Israel has said Tehran supplies Hamas with rockets and guns.

It was unclear, however, if Iran would resume funding for Hamas, which diplomats say has been suspended since August 2011.

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