Hamas, Fatah spar over peace talks with Tony Blair

PLO accuses the former British prime minister of playing a "suspicious" role.

Sami Abu-Zuhri (photo credit: REUTERS)
Sami Abu-Zuhri
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Fatah launched a scathing attack on Tony Blair on Thursday and called on Hamas to stop dealing with him, after reports surfaced of a proposed long-term truce with Israel brokered by the former UK prime minister.
Hamas said that any proposal for a long-term truce with Israel would be brought to the attention of other Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said his movement held talks with representatives of various factions, including Fatah, to brief them on recent efforts to achieve a truce with Israel.
He noted that Hamas leaders held talks about the proposed truce with European officials, including Blair, who until recently served as the Middle East Quartet’s envoy.
Kayed al-Ghul, a senior official of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, said that he heard from Hamas leaders that the movement still hasn’t reached an agreement with Blair or any other European party about the proposed truce.
Ghul pointed out that the reports in the media about an imminent truce agreement between Hamas and Israel did not reflect the true and declared position of the movement’s leaders in the Gaza Strip.
He said that the proposals received by Hamas call for halting the development of weapons and for the digging of tunnels, in return for lifting the blockade on the Gaza Strip. The proposals, according to the PFLP official, also envisage the creation of a “water passage” to the Gaza Strip that would be under the supervision of Israel. He added that various international parties have been making serious efforts to reach an agreement between Hamas and Israel that would be compatible with the latter’s conditions.
Fatah spokesman Osama Qawassmeh said that Blair does not hold any official title, “since he was fired by the Quartet.” Qawassmeh accused the Briton of playing a “suspicious role” by trying to forge a long-term truce agreement between Hamas and Israel.
“Blair is acting as a broker to obstruct matters and we don’t know what his intentions are,” the Fatah spokesman said. He urged Hamas to stop dealing with Blair and halt all negotiations with Israel. The spokesman said that Hamas should coordinate directly with the PLO.
Israeli officials would not talk about the reports, beyond saying that Israel is not holding talks with Hamas. One official did say, however, that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in contact with Blair, who was in the country a few weeks ago.
The London-based Al-Hayat newspaper claimed on Thursday that Israel has agreed to the creation of such a “water passage” between Cyprus and the Gaza Strip, as part of a deal to reach a long-term truce of seven to 10 years.
The report quoted unnamed Palestinian sources as saying that Israel has agreed to fully remove the blockade on the Gaza Strip, paving the way for the reconstruction of the houses that were destroyed during the last military confrontation between Hamas and Israel.
The sources also said that Israel was still refusing to allow the Palestinians to rebuild the international airport in the southern Gaza Strip, which operated briefly before its closure at the beginning of the second intifada.
According to the sources, Israel also rejected an offer by Qatar to fund the building of a new airport inside Israel in return for the reopening of the Palestinian airport, which carries the name of Yasser Arafat.
In the context of the efforts to achieve a long-term truce, Blair met with Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal this week in Qatar. It was the second meeting of its kind between the two men in the past two months. Some reports have suggested that the efforts have made progress toward reaching a deal.
Herb Keinon contributed to this report.