Egypt said working to reconcile divided Fatah, Hamas
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Egypt said working to reconcile divided Fatah, Hamas

Cairo official says Saudi-backed pressure on Palestinian factions is meant to foster a united front vis-a-vis Israel

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

A picture taken from the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing in the southern Gaza Strip shows an Egyptian soldier manning a watch tower on the Egyptian side, on October 26, 2014. (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
A picture taken from the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing in the southern Gaza Strip shows an Egyptian soldier manning a watch tower on the Egyptian side, on October 26, 2014. (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

An Egyptian official revealed on Wednesday that Cairo has been working to renew talks toward reconciliation between the rival Palestinian groups Hamas and Fatah, which remain deeply divided despite being partners in a nominal unity government.

“Our efforts are ongoing and continuous despite events in the region,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr Abdel Atty said in an interview with the Palestinian news site Donia Al-Watan. “As far as we are concerned Palestine is the main issue in the area, and we need to do everything to establish an independent Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem.

“Egypt is interested in Palestinian reconciliation and is prepared to invest many efforts to achieve that,” he said, according to the Israeli news site NRG. “Without reconciliation, Palestinian society is divided and the Palestinian principles are not united. We need to apply pressure and to have meetings so that the Palestinian front will be united and strong on the way to talks with the Israelis.”

The official said Egypt has also been working to renew negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri is acting to rally the foreign ministers of the Arab League to bring about a renewal of the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, he said, and noted that Saudi Arabia was also involved in the efforts.

Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip from the forces of PA President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007. Abbas, leader of the rival Fatah party, has governed only in the West Bank since then. In 2014 Fatah and Hamas signed a unity government deal, but tensions persist and elections, initially planned for the end of 2014, have been put off indefinitely.

Peace negotiations between Israel and the PA collapsed after nine months in April 2014 amid recriminations that each side had refused to live up to its pre-talks commitments.

Atty’s statements came as senior Hamas officials confirmed Tuesday that some of the group’s representatives residing outside the Gaza Strip have been conducting discussions with senior officials from the Egyptian intelligence service recently about patching up relations between Gaza and Cairo.

The Haaretz news site, citing Palestinian sources, reported that Hamas hopes Egypt will consent to a reopening of the Rafah border crossing, while the Egyptians are demanding confidence-building measures from the Palestinian group.

The report didn’t specify what Egypt wants from Hamas to boost its trust in the group, which is the de facto ruler in Gaza.

Senior Hamas officials revealed that although there has been some agreement already, there are still rifts between the parties.

Gaza-based official Salah Bardawil told local media that Egyptian intelligence understands that Hamas is not involved in every attack against Egypt, and that the reality is very different from the way it is depicted in Egyptian media, which often blames Hamas for militant attacks in the Sinai Peninsula.

“There are contacts between the sides to end the blockade [of Gaza], but you can’t call it a reconciliation or a return to the days when the relationship was strong,” Bardawil said.

Egypt maintains with Israel a tight naval and air blockade of the Gaza Strip, aimed at stemming the flow of weapons into the coastal enclave and the passage of extremists to the Sinai. Egypt routinely seals the Rafah border crossing as well, often in response to attacks in Sinai.

Bardawil noted that, despite the progress, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal had not been invited to Cairo, and there was no indication he was likely to be invited in the near future.

Palestinian sources said a key development behind efforts to improve relations came with the January coronation of Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud as king of Saudi Arabia.

Salman is considered less wary of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas’s parent movement, than his predecessor, and both Egypt and Saudi Arabia do not want to see Hamas fall under Iranian control.

Last week an Egyptian court overturned a decision naming Hamas a terrorist organization, a ruling coming after months of increasing hostility toward the blockaded rulers of the Gaza Strip.

Egypt initially declared the group a terrorist organization in February. That ruling further isolated Hamas, which once found open support under Egypt’s toppled Islamist president Mohammed Morsi. Egypt’s new government recently has begun clearing a buffer zone along its border with Gaza Strip in an attempt to destroy a cross-border network of tunnels that Hamas considers a lifeline.

In recent months, Egypt has appeared increasingly hostile to Hamas, which it has blamed for violence in the country’s restive Sinai Peninsula. The movement, founded in Gaza in 1987 as an offshoot of the region’s Egyptian-originated Muslim Brotherhood, faces a growing cash crunch and has yet to lay out a strategy to extract Gaza from its increasingly dire situation.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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