MATTHEW KALMAN in Jerusalem
PALESTINIAN FACTIONS Fatah and Hamas have moved towards healing a deadly rift by agreeing a mutual release of prisoners and the appointment of joint committees to address outstanding grievances.
The breakthrough after months of stalemate came ahead of a push for UN recognition in September.
After lengthy talks in Cairo, Fatah representative Azzam Al-Ahmad said: “Today’s meeting was very successful and it revived the reconciliation agreement, hindering all attempts to fold it. Our adherence to this agreement was also confirmed in this meeting.”
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zahri said the agreement was “important, because it is a reassuring message to the Palestinian people and it reflects the seriousness of both parties in implementing it”.
Fatah, the ruling party of Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, has been locked in a bitter dispute with the Hamas Islamic Resistance Movement since 2007 when Hamas fighters staged a bloody coup and ejected Fatah from the Gaza Strip.
Hundreds of loyalists were killed in the fighting, most of them from Fatah.
Since then, Hamas has governed the Gaza Strip while Fatah has ruled the West Bank, although it has continued to pay the salaries of thousands of civil servants and prisoners’ and martyrs’ families in Gaza. Each side has arrested the other’s supporters in the territory they control and traded accusations over collaborating with or provoking Israel.
Last May, the two sides agreed to establish an interim government made up of independent political figures that would prepare for long overdue elections.
Mr Abbas met Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal publicly in Cairo to seal the deal. However a follow- up meeting planned for June collapsed amid mutual recrimination.
So far, no interim government has been formed and the promised co-operation on security issues has not materialised.
There is disagreement over the future of prime minister Salam Fayyad. Mr Fayyad is seen by many as the architect of an economic boom in the West Bank and one of the few Palestinian leaders trusted by western donors, but Hamas wants him replaced.
To further complicate matters, the unity deal has been attacked by Israel and the United States which say the deal will legitimise Hamas terror tactics. The Islamic resistance movement refuses to negotiate peace or to recognise Israel’s right to exist.
The committees set up during talks in Cairo at the weekend will address remaining grievances over the granting of passports, social reconciliation, institutions affiliated to each side shut down in Gaza and the West Bank and prisoners.
Ma’an News agency reported that there are 70 Hamas prisoners in the West Bank and 37 Fatah prisoners in Gaza.
Khaled Amayreh, a prominent critic of the Palestinian Authority based in Hebron, said that while the renewed commitment was welcome, Palestinians were waiting to see concrete results after years of on-off talks between Fatah and Hamas.
“We hope and pray that . . . we reach the moment when the rift and all its scars, ramifications and repercussions will be a thing of the past,” Mr Amayreh said.
“The release of political prisoners, which is supposed to take place before the end of Ramadan, will be a real breakthrough,” he added.
But Omar Shaban, head of the Gaza think tank Palthink, was more sceptical.
“Political unity is an illusion,” he said.