Abbas Hamas 224.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Hamas leaders appeared to be divided Saturday over the meeting a day earlier in Ramallah between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and four senior Hamas representatives in the West Bank.
Meanwhile, Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders in Gaza have gone into hiding for fear of being targeted by Israel in response to the ongoing rocket attacks from the Strip, local journalists told The Jerusalem Post. They said most of these leaders had stopped appearing in public or sleeping in their homes.
While some Hamas leaders welcomed the Ramallah meeting as a first step toward mending fences with Fatah, others criticized the four Hamas representatives, saying they did not consult with the organization's leadership in the Gaza Strip.
Abbas's aides, meanwhile, expressed deep satisfaction with the results of the talks, saying it was the first time since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in June that a senior Hamas delegation had openly pledged allegiance to Abbas. The aides also said the meeting was a sign of increased divisions among Hamas leaders.
"Hamas looks positively at this meeting and considers it as a first step toward restoring Palestinian unity," said Hamas spokesman Ayman Taha. He said Abbas promised during the meeting to halt all security measures against Hamas figures and institutions in the West Bank.
"President Abbas promised to stop all the measures and to release Hamas detainees," Taha said. "He also made it clear that he's not opposed to dialogue with Hamas, but his condition for resuming talks is that Hamas relinquish control over the Gaza Strip. The meeting itself was very important because Abbas used to set pre-conditions for talking with Hamas."
Khalil al-Haya, a Hamas legislator in the Gaza Strip, welcomed the meeting as a first step toward instituting confidence measures between Fatah and Hamas. He expressed hope that Abbas and his Fatah-controlled PA security forces would stop their clampdown on Hamas in the West Bank.
However, another Hamas spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri, played down the significance of the talks. "This meeting has nothing do to with the talk about the resumption of talks between Fatah and Hamas," he said. "Abbas still hasn't changed his position and remains opposed to a dialogue with Hamas."
The four Hamas representatives who met with Abbas were Nasser Eddin al-Shaer, a former PA deputy prime minister and minister of education, Hussein Abu Kwaik, Faraj Abu Rumaneh and legislator Ayman Daraghmeh.
The four have been critical of Hamas's violent takeover of the Gaza Strip. In recent weeks they have also publicly condemned threats by some Hamas leaders to overthrow Abbas's government in the West Bank.
The meeting between Abbas and the Hamas representatives is also said to have enraged some top Fatah officials in the West Bank who are vehemently opposed to such contacts unless Hamas first cedes control over the Gaza Strip.
"This meeting does not help Fatah," complained one Fatah operative in Ramallah. "I don't know why President Abbas has changed his position. Until now he had been saying that he would never talk to Hamas before they hand back all the institutions they occupied in the Gaza Strip and end their violent coup."
At Friday's meeting, the Hamas representatives condemned the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip and voiced support for Abbas as the leader of the Palestinians, said Ahmed Abdel Rahman, a close aide to Abbas. He said the public stance of the four against the Hamas takeover had paved the way for the talks.
According to Abdel Rahman, Abbas stressed during the meeting that there would be no reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas before the latter ended its control of the Gaza Strip. "The president hasn't changed his policy," he added. "He made it clear that there would be no reconciliation with Hamas before they ended their coup."
Sources close to Hamas said this was not the first meeting of its kind between the two parties. "A quiet dialogue between Fatah and Hamas has been taking place for the past few months," they said. "These meetings are aimed at easing tensions between the two sides and preventing a further deterioration."