(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Hamas said on Wednesday that it was not pinning high hopes on the visit of Fatah official Nabil Sha’ath to the Gaza Strip – the first of its kind since the violent Hamas takeover in the summer of 2007.
“Sha’ath is being treated like any ordinary Palestinian who wants to visit the Gaza Strip,” said Hamas legislator and spokesman Salah Bardaweel. “No one can stop any honorable Palestinian from visiting his or her homeland.”
Bardaweel said that Sha’ath was permitted to enter the Gaza Strip because he had coordinated the visit in advance with the Hamas government.
Sha’ath, a member of the Fatah Central Council and a former PA foreign minister, arrived in the Gaza Strip only days after the Hamas government announced that Fatah officials would need “special permission” to enter the area.
Hamas’s announcement drew strong condemnations from Fatah, whose representatives said they would not seek the Islamist movement’s permission to enter the Gaza Strip.
On the eve of the visit, Sha’ath denied that he had sought permission from the Hamas government to enter the Gaza Strip.
“I don’t need a visa to visit the Gaza Strip,” he said. “The Gaza Strip is part of the Palestinian homeland and I won’t seek approval or special permission from anyone.”
Hundreds of Fatah members and officials fled the Gaza Strip in 2007 and have since been living in various parts of the West Bank.
Over the past few weeks, the PA leadership in Ramallah has exerted pressure on dozens of the Fatah “refugees” to return to the Gaza Strip.
A PA official said that one of Sha’ath’s tasks was to persuade the Hamas government to allow many of the Fatah men to return to their families.
Sha’ath, who is originally from the Gaza Strip, said upon his arrival that PA President Mahmoud Abbas dispatched him to examine the condition of the residents in the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead. Sha’ath’s house in Gaza City was looted and burned down by Hamas supporters in 2007.
He added that he came to “achieve national unity and end the three-year state of division” between Hamas and Fatah. He said that during his stay in the Gaza Strip he would hold meetings with leaders of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian groups.
“We hope that through this visit we will the internal split and achieve real reconciliation [between Hamas and Fatah],” Sha’ath said. “This visit is a cry to the oppressive world that you can’t keep the people here under siege, starvation and aggression.”
The senior Fatah official was not received at the Palestinian side of the Erez checkpoint by any representative of the Hamas government.
However, shortly after his arrival in the Gaza Strip, Sha’ath met with a number of Hamas representatives, including Khalil al-Hayeh and Ayman Taha.
Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh welcomed Sha’ath’s visit, stressing that his movement was keen on ending its dispute with Fatah. Haniyeh’s remarks were made during a meeting he held in Gaza City with Palestinian businessman Munib al-Masri of Nablus, who has long been spearheading Palestinian efforts to end the Hamas-Fatah crisis.
Sha’ath’s talks are also expected to focus on Egypt’s initiative to achieve reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah – a plan that was rejected by Hamas only days before it was supposed to be signed in Cairo.
The Egyptians on Wednesday blamed Hamas for the failure of the reconciliation initiative.
Egyptian Assistant Foreign Minister Abdel Rahman Salah described Hamas’s last-minute refusal to sign the reconciliation accord as “short-sightedness and a bid to achieve political gains at the expense of a greater interest.”
Salah said that while the agreement proposed by Egypt would not solve
all issues between the Palestinian factions, it would nevertheless
establish a mechanism for solving problems.
He pointed out that
that the Egyptian-brokered document was rejected by the US and Israel,
saying this proved that the Egyptians “did not receive orders from the