Abbas, Haniyeh meet for first time in 4 years

MAAN FEB 24 2012

JERUSALEM (Ma’an) — For the first time since they split into rival government in the West Bank and Gaza in 2007, Fatah leader President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader and Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh met in Cairo late Thursday.

The leaders met in Al-Andalus castle in the Egyptian capital, accompanied by top officials from both parties. They discussed the process of reconciliation between their factions, including ways to overcome obstacles to the Cairo and Doha agreements, a Hamas official said.

After his Hamas party won elections in 2006, Haniyeh became prime minister but the international community shunned the new government and rivalry with incumbents Fatah exploded into near civil war.

Fatah left the Gaza Strip, and Abbas, as president, appointed a new prime minister to lead the West Bank-based administration. Hamas contested the legitimacy of this move, and maintained its Gaza government was the sole elected authority.

The parties signed a deal to end the four-year division in May 2011, penned by Abbas and Hamas politburo head Khalid Mashaal. Haniyeh — who made his first diplomatic trips outside of Gaza since 2007 — had yet to meet with the Fatah chief until Thursday night.

In early February, the party chiefs agreed in the Qatari capital for Abbas to head a new unity government to prepare for fresh elections, causing some disquiet amongst the Gaza-based leaders of Hamas.

In an apparent effort to re-balance Hamas’ position, the party agreed at a Wednesday meeting on demands to Abbas’s party for the new government — including retaining control of key ministries — according to one official involved in the talks.

The Hamas delegation at Thursday’s meeting included Musa Abu Marzouq, Izzat Rishiq, Khalil al-Hayyeh, Nizar Awad Allah and Muhammad Naser. The Fatah delegation included Saeb Erekat, Azzam Al-Ahmad, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, and PA ambassador in Cairo Barakat al-Farra.

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