Mashaal leaves Gaza with calls for Palestinian unity

Wrapping up trip filled with anti-Israel rhetoric, Hamas leader departs Gaza with vow to forge ahead with Fatah reconciliation.

Mashaal and Haniyeh at Gaza rally 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohammed Salem)
Mashaal and Haniyeh at Gaza rally 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mohammed Salem)
Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal ended his first visit to the Gaza Strip on Monday with a pledge that his Islamist terrorist organization would strive to heal political rifts with Palestinian rivals who hold sway in the West Bank.
His comments reinforced promises he and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas made to each other during a telephone conversation a month ago to forge ahead with a stalled unity deal opposed by Israel.
Also on Monday, Ma’an News Agency reported that the PA that day granted Hamas permission to hold a 25th anniversary celebration in the West Bank, in growing signs that Fatah and Hamas were working to end the five-year schism between them.
The festival, to take place on Thursday, will feature speeches from Hamas leaders. Hamas had earlier approved plans for Fatah to celebrate its own anniversary in Gaza.
The most recent sign of reconciliation between the factions follows Fatah’s participation in Hamas’s 25th anniversary celebration in Gaza on Saturday.
Abbas announced Sunday that he planned to head to Cairo soon to resume reconciliation talks with Hamas.
“Reconciliation is dear to us and the unity of our people,” Abbas told the Arab League in Doha, Qatar.
Mashaal agreed, telling an audience at Gaza’s Islamic University that “responsibility for Palestine is bigger than one faction alone... Hamas cannot do without Fatah and Fatah cannot do without Hamas.”
During his four-day stay in Gaza, Mashaal angered Israel with vows to never recognize the Jewish state and to seek to “free the land of Palestine inch by inch,” a statement Israel views as vindicating its reluctance to yield land for peace.
But in brief remarks before crossing back into Egypt from Gaza, Mashaal focused on internal Palestinian feuds.
“I entered Gaza carrying a great love for it and I exit with a greater love in my heart,” the 56-year-old Hamas leader, who lives in exile, said.
“From Gaza, I have stressed the need for reconciliation, and I do so again. Gaza and the West Bank are two dear parts of the greater Palestinian homeland, and they need each other.”
Hamas has ruled the Gaza Strip and its 1.7 million residents since 2007, when it won a brief civil war with Fatah, which still controls the West Bank. Israel pulled troops and settlers out of Gaza in 2005.
The two main Palestinian factions have tried, often with little enthusiasm, to patch up their differences. Aside from their quarrel over Gaza, the groups are also divided over Abbas’s peacemaking efforts with Israel, which Hamas opposes. But the talks with Israel have been frozen for two years, making it easier to sidestep that issue in order to reconcile.
Both parties also now hope to boost ties on the heels of an eight-day round of violence with Israel last month that ended with a truce Hamas saw as a victory, and the PA’s successful initiative at the United Nations General Assembly to receive the status of an observer non-member state.
Mashaal became the head of Hamas in 2004 after Israel assassinated the group’s co-founders Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi. He himself survived a 1997 assassination attempt in Jordan.
Some Hamas leaders have suggested that they would back a long-term truce with Israel along with the creation of a Palestinian state in land Israel captured in 1967 in the Six Day War.
Mashaal, though, took a hardline approach during his Gaza visit.
“Today is Gaza. Tomorrow will be Ramallah and after that Jerusalem, then Haifa and Jaffa,” he told a rally on Saturday.
“We do not accept the twostate solution,” or Palestinian statehood alongside Israel, Mashaal said on Sunday at the Gaza Islamic University.
Any push for Palestinian reconciliation would likely further anger Israel, already incensed at Mashaal’s combative statements in Gaza.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that Mashaal’s statements in Gaza and Abbas’s lack of condemnation showed that the Palestinians “have no intention of compromising with us. They want to destroy our country.”