Hamas official: Party will accept Abbas initiative to end division

Published March 29., 2011 (updated) March 30, 2011

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Hamas head of the Palestinian legislature Aziz Dweik said Tuesday that the party would respond positively to President Mahmoud Abbas’ initiative to visit Gaza and end the national division.

Dweik told Ma’an Radio that Abbas’ proposed visit would be a practical step toward resolving the split between the Hamas-run government in the Gaza Strip and the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

Dweik headed a delegation of Hamas leaders who held landmark talks with Abbas in Ramallah on Saturday, the president’s first meeting with Hamas in over two years.

In the midst of mass youth protests demanding an end to the national division, Gaza premier Ismail Haniyeh invited Abbas to Gaza for emergency talks.

The president accepted the invitation on March 16, but said he would go to the coastal enclave to make a unity deal, not to discuss one. He proposed forming a unity government to prepare for presidential, legislative and Palestinian National Council elections within six months.

Fatah officials said a date would be set for Abbas’ visit once Hamas accepted the initiative. Dweik said he expected Hamas officials to respond positively within the next week.

In Cairo, Hamas leader Mahmud Zahar said the party would hold another meeting in Gaza “in the coming two days” with Fatah members.

Zahar’s comments were made after a meeting with Arab League Secretary General Amr Mussa, who said the league was willing to host Palestinian unity meetings.

“There is no justification whatsoever for the continued Palestinian division,” Mussa said, stressing the need to “unify Palestinian ranks ahead the current challenges.”

Israel slams initiative

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned the PA not to reconcile with Hamas, saying it would prohibit peace with Israel.

“We hear in recent days that the Palestinian Authority is thinking of uniting with Hamas,” Netanyahu told Jewish fundraisers in a speech distributed on Tuesday by the Israeli Government Press Office.

“It’s thinking of effecting peace, not with Israel, but with Hamas,” he said. “Well, I say to them something very simple: you can’t have peace with Israel and Hamas. It’s one or the other, but not both.”

Fatah and Hamas split in 2007 when the Islamist movement kicked its secular rivals out of Gaza amid clashes which neared civil war.

Since then, Gaza has been effectively cut off from the West Bank, which is under the control of Fatah, and repeated attempts at reconciliation have led nowhere.

The split has badly damaged Palestinian efforts to end Israel’s illegal military occupation.

A growing Palestinian youth movement is demanding national unity, and elections for the Palestinian National Council.

Abbas’ proposed visit was immediately welcomed by UN envoy Robert Serry, who noted that unity was “overdue and vital for Palestinian legitimate aspirations.”

AFP contributed to this report

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