Mashaal off to Cairo for Fatah talks

Mashaal to head back to

Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal is scheduled to visit Cairo early next week for talks on ways of ending his movement's power struggle with Fatah. A Hamas official in the Gaza Strip told The Jerusalem Post that Mashaal was carrying the movement's "final response" to an Egyptian initiative aimed at ending the crisis. The official said that Hamas had a few reservations about the initiative, but refused to elaborate. He described Hamas's overall attitude toward the initiative as "very positive." Mashaal will arrive in Cairo at the head of a high-level delegation from Syria and the Gaza Strip, said Ayman Taha, a Hamas spokesman. This would be Mashaal's third visit to Egypt in the past month. The Egyptians have been exerting immense pressure on Hamas and Fatah to accept the initiative which calls, among other things, for the establishment of a joint committee that would run Palestinian affairs until new presidential and parliamentary elections are held sometime during the first six months of 2010. The initiative also calls for the formation of a Hamas-Fatah security force that would operate in the Gaza Strip. Another Hamas spokesman, Fawzi Barhoum, said that Mashaal's visit to Cairo would "demonstrate Hamas's keenness on ending divisions in the Palestinian arena and achieving national unity." Barhoum said that the Egyptians would decide on the fate of their mediation efforts after they receive the responses of Hamas and Fatah. He did not rule out the possibility that Cairo would summon representatives of several Palestinian factions to a larger conference to discuss unity. Sources close to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said that Fatah had agreed to the initiative, although it too has reservations about some points, especially over the timing of the elections and the nature of the proposed security force. Abbas continues to insist that the elections be held on January 25, 2010, when the term of the Palestinian Legislative Council expires. Presidential elections were scheduled to be held earlier this year when Abbas's term in office expired. However, failure to reach agreement with Hamas prompted Abbas to stay in power until further notice. On the eve of the resumption of the Egyptian mediation efforts, some Fatah leaders warned against succumbing to Hamas's demands and giving the Islamic movement a say in decision-making. Jamal Nazal, member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, said he was concerned that Fatah would allow Hamas to set foot in the West Bank. Nazal said he was opposed to giving Hamas "even one centimeter" of land in the West Bank because that would be seen as a reward to the movement for staging a "coup" in the Gaza Strip. Condemning Hamas as a "satanic" party, Nazal said that there was nothing that the movement could do to help Fatah in its "war against the settlements" in the West Bank. He also called for holding elections without Hamas.