(photo credit: AP)
Damascus-based Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal confirmed that the Islamic group would return control of security and government institutions in Gaza to the Palestinian Authority, Asharq Alawsat reported on Tuesday.
"The head of the Hamas political-bureau Khalad Mashaal agreed to transfer control of the Gaza Strip to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas," Hassan Abu Qwaik, a senior Hamas member in Ramallah, told the London-based newspaper.
On Monday, PA officials in Ramallah expressed outrage with Saudi Arabia for hosting a senior Hamas delegation headed by Mashaal.
Earlier this week, PA officials strongly criticized Egypt for temporarily reopening the Rafah border crossing to allow Muslims to perform the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca. The Egyptian decision is seen as a sign of increased rapprochement between Cairo and Hamas.
Meanwhile, sources close to Hamas and Fatah confirmed that representatives of the two parties had been holding secret talks in the Gaza Strip, Damascus and Beirut in a bid to resolve their differences.
According to the sources, the two sides discussed the possibility of holding new presidential and parliamentary elections as a first step toward ending their power struggle.
They also discussed the possibility of handing control over the border crossings in the Gaza Strip to Fatah loyalists, the sources said.
The Saudi invitation to the Hamas delegation was a "severe blow" to the PA's efforts to end the Hamas reign over the Gaza Strip, the PA officials had told The Jerusalem Post.
The officials were particularly enraged by the red-carpet welcome that Mashaal and his colleagues received upon their arrival in Saudi Arabia over the weekend. The Hamas delegation has met with several top Saudi officials and members of the royal family, including Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal.
"Saudi Arabia has made a huge mistake by inviting Mashaal and his friends," said an official close to Abbas. "The Arab states should boycott Hamas because of its violent coup in the Gaza Strip."
The official said the PA leadership had been "shocked" when it learned that Mashaal and senior Hamas officials had been invited to Saudi Arabia.
"Hamas is doing its utmost to undermine the authority of President Mahmoud Abbas," he said. "The timing of the visit - two weeks after the Annapolis peace conference - is also interesting. Hamas was strongly opposed to the conference and continues to issue threats to torpedo any peace process with Israel."
Saudi Arabia and Egypt have been exerting pressure on Hamas and Fatah to patch up their differences and establish a new unity government.
Apart from Mashaal, the Hamas delegation included Musa Abu Marzuk, the No. 2 man in Hamas, as well as Muhammad Naser and Sami Khater, members of the Hamas politburo.
Naser said Monday the Saudis had invited him and his colleagues to brief them on the outcome of the Annapolis conference and to discuss ways of ending the power struggle between Hamas and Fatah.
"We discussed with our Saudi brothers the issue of national unity and reconciliation," he said. "We also discussed the ongoing Israeli aggression against our people and the measures that the Palestinian leadership has been taking against Hamas."
In addition to Saudi Arabia, Naser said, several other Arab countries were acting as mediators between Hamas and Fatah. He reiterated his movement's readiness to launch unconditional talks with Fatah. But he accused the Fatah leadership of placing obstacles on the path to reconciliation.
Ahmed Abdel Rahman, a senior aide to Abbas, expressed support for the idea of holding new elections in the Palestinian territories. He said a public opinion poll published last week showed that some 74 percent of Palestinians supported the idea. But, he added, the elections would be held only after Hamas relinquished control over the Gaza Strip.
"The only solution to the current crisis lies in ending the Hamas crime - the violent coup that they carried out against our institutions," Abdel Rahman said. "Only then will we be able to talk about reconciliation and harmony between all the Palestinian factions, a move that would be followed by elections."
The Fatah central committee, a key decision-making body headed by Abbas, also voiced its opposition to the resumption of talks with Hamas before it ends its rule in Gaza. The committee, which held a meeting in Ramallah late Sunday to discuss the outcome of the Annapolis conference and preparations to resume final-status talks with Israel this week, said Hamas's "black and bloody coup had caused grave damage to the Palestinian cause because it was being used by Israel as an excuse not to withdraw from any area" in the West Bank.
Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>