GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Hamas on Tuesday invited Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to send officials to Gaza to resume control of the coastal enclave the Islamic terror group seized a decade ago.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said his group is serious about returning power to the Western-backed Palestinian leader and called on him to respond with “practical steps.”
Hamas has said it will dismantle a contentious committee that has governed Gaza in recent months — answering a key Abbas demand. It has also said it is ready to hand over all government functions to Abbas and to hold elections in Gaza and the West Bank.
“We extend a clear and frank invitation without obstacles for the consensus government to work in Gaza,” Haniyeh said after returning from Cairo, where he and other Hamas leaders held rare talks with Egyptian officials.
He added that the party was ready to return to Egypt for direct talks with Fatah over the next steps.
“We are ready to return in a few days to Cairo to resume the dialogue,” Haniyeh added, stressing he was “committed to the success” of reconciliation.
On Monday Haniyeh spoke with Abbas for the first time in nearly a year, and Fatah officials have said they expect Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah to visit Gaza in the coming days.
Hamas, an Islamist terrorist organization dedicated to the elimination of Israel, is in financial and political distress after years of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade, designed to prevent it from importing weapons, as well as recent economic pressure from Abbas.
The group won legislative elections in 2006 and the following year seized control of the Gaza Strip from Abbas’ forces, leaving the Palestinian president in charge of autonomous enclaves in the West Bank.
Several past attempts at ending the rift have failed, and thorny issues remain, including security arrangements in Gaza. Hamas has thousands of armed fighters and a sizeable arsenal of rockets and mortar shells. It has always resisted calls to disarm or place its men under Abbas’ control.
The two Palestinian factions are also divided over Israel. Abbas has recognized Israel and renounced violence, while Hamas seeks Israel’s destruction.
Abbas cautiously welcomed Hamas’ intentions on Sunday as he headed to New York for the UN General Assembly.
Haniyeh praised the rapprochement between Hamas and Egypt, which cut ties to the terror group and strengthened the Gaza blockade after the military overthrew an elected Islamist president, who had supported Hamas, in 2013.
Departing from his prepared remarks to the UN General Assembly, Egyptian President Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi on Tuesday said he wanted to “tell the Palestinian people, it is important to unite … to overcome the differences and to be ready to accept co-existence with the other, with Israelis, in safety and security.”