Fatah official: Abbas-Mashaal meeting in works

Top Fatah official says meeting may take place during PA president's visit to Syria early next month.

abbas Mashaal mecca 224. (photo credit: AP)
abbas Mashaal mecca 224.
(photo credit: AP)
Efforts are under way to organize a meeting between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal, a top Fatah official said Sunday. Meanwhile, senior Palestinian officials launched a scathing attack on the cease-fire agreement, saying it would strengthen Hamas and pave the way for the establishment of a separate political entity in the Gaza Strip. The meeting would be the first of its kind since Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip a year ago, said Abbas adviser Ahmed Abdel Rahman. He added that the meeting might take place during Abbas's visit to Syria early next month. Abbas and Mashaal were expected to discuss ways of ending the Fatah-Hamas rivalry and forming a new PA unity government, he added. Abbas recently launched an initiative to hold unconditional talks with Hamas to end the long-standing dispute between the two parties. Abdel Rahim also confirmed a report in The Jerusalem Post according to which Abbas was planning to visit the Gaza Strip. However, he did not say when that would happen. "We hope that the visit would take place very soon," he said. "Efforts are under way to end the schism in the Palestinian arena." In the context of his efforts to win the backing of the Arab world for his unity initiative, Abbas last week visited several Arab countries and briefed their leaders on his plan. The planned meeting between Abbas and Mashaal comes in the wake of the cease-fire agreement that was reached last week between Israel and Hamas. PA leaders in Ramallah have expressed concern that the agreement would bolster Hamas and undermine their authority in the West Bank. "The cease-fire agreement is very good for Hamas and bad for us," said a senior aide to Abbas. "In the eyes of many Palestinians, Hamas emerged triumphant from the agreement because it hardly made any concessions." The official said that in light of the truce agreement, the PA leadership had concluded that it had no choice but to talk to Hamas. "Israel has legitimized Hamas," the official said. "We have been calling on the world not to recognize Hamas's illegal coup in the Gaza Strip, but here comes [Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert and turns Hamas into a major player on the Palestinian arena." Yasser Abed Rabbo, a PLO official closely associated with Abbas, said the cease-fire accord in fact allowed Hamas to establish a parallel Palestinian Authority in the Gaza Strip. "Hamas is convinced that the agreement legitimizes its coup in the Gaza Strip and that Israel and the Arab world recognize its regime," he said. A Fatah delegation that was dispatched by Abbas to the Gaza Strip last week refused to meet with Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh over the weekend . The delegation, which was headed by Hikmat Zeid, a senior Fatah official, turned down an offer to meet with Haniyeh after learning that the meeting would take place in his office. "We refused to meet with Haniyeh in his capacity as prime minister," said a Fatah official. "We made it clear that Haniyeh had been dismissed from his job and that, as far as we are concerned, he is no longer the prime minister."