As a gesture of goodwill, Hamas on Tuesday released from prison four members of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction.
The move came as leaders of Fatah, Hamas and several other Palestinian factions met in Cairo for the second consecutive day to discuss preparations for holding Palestinian general elections.
The discussions, which are being held under the auspices of Egypt’s General Intelligence Service, also aim to end the dispute between Fatah and Hamas.
The four men who were released from Hamas prison are Sami al-Tawil, Kamal Shehadeh, Ala’ Qassem and Abdel Nasser Abu Issa. They worked for the PA security forces in the Gaza Strip before 2007, when Hamas seized control of the coastal enclave, Palestinian sources said.
The four men were released as part of an agreement reached between Fatah and Hamas on the first day of the Cairo talks, the sources said.
“The two parties agreed to end ‘political arrests’ in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to create a positive atmosphere ahead of the planned elections,” one of the sources said.
Hamas officials said they were now expecting the PA to reciprocate by halting its security crackdown on Hamas members in the West Bank.
On Monday, Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem complained that “there was no real election environment in the West Bank.”
Palestinians in the West Bank “are still afraid of the Palestinian Authority’s practices,” he said, adding that “real elections cannot be held without guaranteeing public freedoms, including freedom to vote and run in the elections and freedom of expression.”
The “political arrests” were one of several contentious issues on the agenda of the Cairo talks. The Palestinian factions also discussed the controversy surrounding Abbas’s recent decision to amend a number of laws pertaining to the elections and the judiciary. The changes allow Abbas to appoint the president of the Supreme Judicial Council, the body that appoints judges.
Abbas’s critics said the changes were designed to tighten his grip on the courts, which will have the final say if and when the results of the elections are challenged by any party.
The Palestinian factions reached agreement to solve the controversy surrounding Abbas’s measures pertaining to the court system, Hezbollah-affiliated al-Mayadeen TV reported Tuesday.
Fatah and Hamas agreed that 500 PA policemen would be permitted to deploy in the Gaza Strip to maintain law and order during the elections, it quoted unnamed sources as saying.
Meanwhile, a delegation representing the Palestinian Central Elections Commission arrived in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday to discuss arrangements for holding the elections. The delegation members will meet with representatives of several Palestinian factions and brief them on preparations for holding the vote.
Last month, Abbas issued decrees that set dates for holding parliamentary, presidential and Palestinian National Council (PNC) elections in three phases.
The parliamentary election will be held on May 22, the presidential election on July 31 and the PNC election on August 31.