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Hamas leaders on Wednesday sought to defuse tensions with Cairo by appealing to the Egyptians to resume their mediation efforts to form a Palestinian unity government.
Relations between Hamas and Egypt have deteriorated over the past few weeks, particularly after the Islamic movement turned down an Egyptian proposal for the release of kidnapped IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit in exchange for a few hundred Palestinian prisoners held in Israel.
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The appeal came following harsh statements by Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit against the Hamas leadership.
Gheit was quoted by the Egyptian Al-Ahram newspaper as saying that the Palestinians will lose a chance for peace if they continue infighting. "The Palestinian situation is marred by sharp divisions and battling; it is a misery and shameful for any Arab and any Palestinian," he added. "Those leaders and the Palestinian people will find out that they are losing a chance and a momentum that should have taken place and we lost it."
Gheit slammed the government of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh for rejecting an Arab peace initiative which implicitly recognizes Israel and endorses the land-for-peace principle. "The Palestinian prime minister rejects this initiative; then why doesn't he search for another one?" he said.
Commenting on the allegations, Haniyeh told reporters in Gaza City that Hamas welcomed and appreciated Egypt's role in resolving the crisis in the Palestinian Authority. "We have always welcomed the Egyptian role," he said. "We have a strategic relation with our brothers in Egypt."
Haniyeh also met with an Egyptian security delegation and briefed its members on the results of his talks with the Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jasem al-Thani, who visited the Gaza Strip earlier this week. Al-Thani is reported to have left the Gaza Strip disappointed after Hamas rejected his demand to renounce terror and recognize Israel.
Ahmed Youssef, a political adviser to Haniyeh, called on Egypt to host a session of talks between Hamas and Fatah in Cairo to try to solve the dispute over the formation of a unity government.
"We urge our brothers in Egypt to make an effort to end the dispute between Hamas and Fatah," he said. "The time has come for an expanded meeting in Cairo between the two parties to end the political impasse and to reach new agreements."
Youssef admitted that the Qatari foreign minister's mission in the Gaza Strip had failed and called for new Arab initiatives to resolve the crisis that would require Hamas to recognize Israel. "Our people are now at a crossroads," he added. "Either the Palestinian Authority collapses if the government is fired or we move forward toward establishing a unity government with a political platform that would be acceptable to all the parties."
Former PA security chief Muhammad Dahlan launch-ed a scathing attack on Hamas, holding it responsible for the failure of the Qatari minister's mediation efforts. He also blamed Abbas for the ongoing crisis in the PA territories by failing to use his powers as president to fire the Hamas-led government.
"Hamas is not interested in the formation of a unity government despite the strong relations they have with the Qatari government," he said.
"When the Palestinians voted for Hamas, they were expecting them to succeed where previous governments had failed. But Hamas has since dragged them into more violence, depression and frustration. Hamas has failed on all levels and they must now bear responsibility. Hamas's hard-line policies are the main reason for the continued international sanctions on our people."
Khalil Abu Lailah, a top Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, criticized the US for spearheading efforts to overthrow the Hamas-led government. He was referring to reports that the Americans were providing Abbas's security forces with money and equipment ahead of a possible showdown with Hamas. "This is a very dangerous development," he said. "The US is openly trying to stage a coup against the government."
The US Consul-General in Jerusalem, Jack Wallace, accused Hamas of aborting Israel's release of Palestinian prisoners for Ramadan by its kidnapping of Shalit in June. He said the US was investing in the expansion, equipment and training of Abbas's "presidential guard" for the tasks of fortifying his leadership and manning Palestinian border crossings between Gaza, Egypt and Israel.
Meanwhile, Jordan's King Abdullah II on Wednesday warned the Palestinians that their aspirations of statehood could vanish within months unless they stop sliding towards civil war.
In an interview with Reuters, he said the Palestinians should put aside their internal disputes and confront other challenges, including "a growing rightist camp in Israel that adopts the castle mentality rather than merging into the region." He added: "All of us have to support the Palestinians and urge them to realize that it is not the time for fighting. There are a lot of things that we could sacrifice and risk Palestinian aspirations if we fail."