Hamas chief urges unity as Palestinian congress set for delay

Hamas chief urges unity as Palestinian congress set for delay

Israel’s defense minister says work ongoing in efforts to return two captive Israelis and bodies of two IDF soldiers

The exiled head of Hamas, Khaled Mashaal, gestures during a press conference in the Qatari capital of Doha, September 7, 2015. (AFP/al-Watan Doha/Karim Jaafar)
The exiled head of Hamas, Khaled Mashaal, gestures during a press conference in the Qatari capital of Doha, September 7, 2015. (AFP/al-Watan Doha/Karim Jaafar)

Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal on Monday called for Palestinian “national unity” but said a first congress among Palestinian leaders in 20 years should be postponed until a compromise is struck between factions.

Mashaal, speaking in Qatar where he lives in exile, said Palestinian leaders from the Islamist Hamas and the secular Fatah had to present a unified front.

“We as Palestinians, we are being divided against ourselves; there’s a lack of authority,” he told a news conference in Doha.

“It’s unbelievable and it’s unacceptable from any Palestinian leader.”

He added: “The cause of Palestine is bigger than Hamas and Fatah.”

But Mashaal said a proposed congress of Palestinian leaders set to take place later this month should be postponed.

“Postpone the meeting of the National Congress until there’s a compromise for the meeting,” he said.

“The meeting should be about the laws and regulations we agreed on otherwise this will lead to more division.”

He added that Hamas were ready to meet its rival Fatah “in any Arab country.”

Earlier on Monday, Palestinian leaders moved toward a postponement of the congress amid speculation over the intentions of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The meeting of the Palestine National Council, a congress representing those in the Palestinian territories and the diaspora, was to take place on September 14-15, but a new date is likely to be set.

Abbas has announced his resignation as chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation in a bid to force new elections for its executive committee.

Abbas’s allies say his moves are part of efforts to inject new blood in the Palestinian leadership. Critics, however, argue that Abbas is maneuvering to empower his allies and marginalize opponents ahead of the 80-year-old’s eventual retirement.

Meanwhile, at a Tuesday memorial ceremony for IDF soldiers killed in Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza last year, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said it was the government’s responsibility to negotiate the return the bodies of two IDF soldiers held by Hamas.

“We are turning every stone and making every effort to return our boys to Israel,” he said of Lt. Hadar Goldin and Sergeant Oron Shaul, whose bodies are being held in Gaza.

IDF soldiers Oron Shaul (left) and Hadar Goldin (right) (Flash90)
IDF soldiers Oron Shaul (left) and Hadar Goldin (right) (Flash90)

Goldin and Shaul were killed in separate incidents in engagements with Hamas fighters during the Gaza war. They were both declared dead based on battlefield evidence, but Hamas has refused to release their bodies to their families for burial.

“We are also working to return the Israeli citizens who are currently being held in the Gaza Strip,” Ya’alon said. “This is our responsibility as leaders,” he said.

In July, it emerged that two Israeli men have been held captive in Gaza for months.

One, Avraham Mengistu, 28, was captured after he sneaked over the border fence in September of last year for unknown reasons. Israel maintains that he is being held by Hamas, though the Gaza-based terror group has refused to confirm it, and has not publicly issued any demands for his release. Mengistu’s family says he suffers from mental illness.

The second man is described as a young man from the Arab community. Security sources have said he also suffered from psychological issues and had a history of unexpectedly crossing borders into Jordan, Egypt and Gaza.

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