Abbas, Assad to meet on ending schism

PA officials rule out possibility of PA president meeting Mashaal in first visit to Damascus since '07.

abbas assad 224 (photo credit: AP [file])
abbas assad 224
(photo credit: AP [file])
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is scheduled to hold talks in Damascus on Sunday with Syrian President Bashar Assad on ways of ending the dispute between Hamas and Fatah, PA officials in Ramallah said over the weekend. This will be Abbas's first visit to Syria since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in June 2007. The PA has in the past accused Syria of supporting Hamas's "coup," noting that Khaled Mashaal and other Hamas leaders are based in Damascus. The PA officials ruled out the possibility that Abbas would meet with Mashaal during his visit to Syria, saying the gap between the two men remains as wide as ever. However, leaders of some Palestinian factions said they were trying to persuade Abbas and Mashaal to meet to discuss ways of solving the Fatah-Hamas crisis. The head of the PA negotiating team with Israel, former PA prime minister Ahmed Qurei [Abu Ala], will accompany Abbas to Syria. According to some reports, Qurei will meet with Mashaal and hand him a message from Abbas. Abbas is expected to seek Assad's help in persuading Hamas to relinquish control of the Gaza Strip, a senior PA official told The Jerusalem Post. "The Syrians are the only ones capable of exerting pressure on Mashaal," the official said. "President Abbas wants to hold national unity talks with Hamas and all the Palestinian factions." Abbas's visit to Syria comes in the wake of his recent initiative to patch up his differences with Hamas. The initiative calls for "comprehensive internal dialogue" among all Palestinian factions to end the crisis. It was the first time that Abbas had expressed a desire to hold unconditional talks with Hamas. In the past, Abbas said he would not talk to Hamas unless the Islamist movement ceded control of the Gaza Strip and recognized the PLO as the "sole and legitimate" representative of the Palestinians. Although Hamas has welcomed Abbas's call for dialogue, the movement's leaders have said they would not relinquish control of the Gaza Strip. Despite the initiative, the tensions between Hamas and Fatah continue to mount, with both sides launching smear campaigns against each other in the media. Hamas claimed over the weekend that top Fatah operative Muhammad Dahlan and his men were behind the last Gazan rocket attacks on Israel. Hamas said Dahlan was trying to sabotage the cease-fire agreement with Israel. Dahlan dismissed the allegations as "silly." He said the charges reflected the state of "confusion" among the Hamas leaders. In a further sign of increased tensions between the two sides, Hamas has decided to turn the PA president's office in Gaza City into the headquarters of one of the Hamas security forces. The move drew sharp condemnations from PA leaders in Ramallah. Tayeb Abdel Rahim, a senior adviser to Abbas, said the decision constituted another "coup" against the legitimate leadership of the Palestinians and consolidated the state of division between the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He said Hamas was seeking to establish a "dark, fascist and repressive emirate" in the Gaza Strip.