Abbas meets with Hamas reps in surprise move

Discuss Hizbullah, prisoner exchange deals; Hamas wants to close Schalit case as soon as possible.

Abbas Haniyeh 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Abbas Haniyeh 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
In a surprise move, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met late Monday night with a senior Hamas delegation in his office in Ramallah. The unexpected meeting came amid reports about an impending prisoner exchange between Hizbullah and Israel. The meeting focused on the reported deal and efforts to achieve a cease-fire between the Palestinians and Israel. PA and Hamas officials expressed hope that the prisoner exchange would pave the way for a similar deal between Israel and Hamas. However, they refused to say whether the meeting between Abbas and the Hamas delegation was linked to the deal between Israel and Hizbullah. "We welcome the news about a breakthrough in the talks between Israel and Hizbullah, especially with regards to the release of [Lebanese prisoner] Samir Kuntar," said a senior PA official in Abbas's office. "We hope that this would lead to the release of [kidnapped IDF soldier Cpl.] Gilad Schalit and Palestinian prisoners." Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip refused to say whether the case of Schalit was part of the deal between Hizbullah and Israel. But according to a senior Hamas official, "Hamas wants to close the case of Schalit as soon as possible." He said that Hamas has made "real concessions" regarding the case of Schalit and was now prepared to exchange him for fewer than 400 Palestinian prisoners. The Hamas official told The Jerusalem Post that a cease-fire with Israel would pave the way for a prisoner exchange between the two parties. "We have told the Egyptians that we will be more flexible on the case of Schalit once Israel accepts the truce proposal and stops its military aggression," he said. Both the PA and Hamas officials expressed disappointment over reports that Hizbullah had not demanded the release of Palestinian prisoners in the latest talks. The release of Kuntar and other Lebanese prisoners would boost Hizbullah's standing in Lebanon, particularly after the recent wave of violence in Beirut. Hizbullah, Arab political analysts said Monday, is desperately in need of improving its image following allegations that its fighters acted like gangsters when they captured large parts of the Lebanese capital. Similarly, a prisoner exchange with Hamas would bolster the movement's standing among the Palestinians, the analysts noted. They said that the release of several hundred Palestinian prisoners, including some from the rival Fatah faction, would certainly earn Hamas more points on the Palestinian street. The Hamas officials who met with Abbas on Monday told him that they were keen on mending fences with his Fatah faction in the same way the warring Lebanese factions solved their differences earlier this week in Qatar. They also told him that Hamas supports Egypt's efforts to achieve a cease-fire with Israel. The Hamas delegation was led by former deputy prime minister Nasser Eddin Shaer and Sheikh Hamed Bitawi, a senior religious scholar who was recently released from Israeli prison. The two, along with four other Hamas figures, are also reported to have relayed a message to Abbas from Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip and Syria expressing their desire to end the ongoing dispute with Fatah.