Abbas mulls Gaza visit in bid to end Hamas rivalry, source says 30May10 May 31, 2010

by Avi Issacharoff  -  Haaretz -  30 May 2010

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is “seriously considering” visiting the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Ma’an news agency reported Sunday, in what would be his first visit since before the Islamist group took power of the coastal enclave.

Hamas was elected into power in the Gaza strip in 2007. The Palestinian secular Fatah movement, headed by Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank, did not accept the religious party’s rule in Gaza.

Abbas, according to a presidential source quoted by Ma’an, is apparently determined to make the trip, his first since 2006, so to signal his commitment to resolving the long-running animosity between Fatah and rival Hamas.

In addition, the report also stated that Gaza’s Hamas Interior Minister, Fathi Hammad, had invited the Palestinian president last week, saying that “reconciliation is our strategic choice.”

Aziz Dweik, speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, told Ma’an he hoped to accompany Abbas on his Gaza tour.

“We miss Gaza and our beloved people there. I applaud this step forward toward restoring Palestinian unity in the face of an unprecedented, fierce, Israeli campaign,” Dweik said.

Last week, leaders of rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas displayed rare unity at a joint Nakba Day rally in Gaza, raising hopes of reconciliation between the groups.

It was the first time leaders from Islamist Hamas and the more secular Fatah movement, headed by Abbas, shared the platform at a large public gathering since Hamas seized the Gaza Strip from Fatah.

The rally, organized by the much smaller Islamic Jihad group, coincided with reports of serious talks between Hamas and Fatah aimed at resolving their differences.

Top Palestinian businessman Munib Masri who has been heavily involved in recent mediation efforts, expressed cautious optimism, telling Reuters that “the coming days may result in a positive outcome, but we should not expect too much.”

Masri has been mediating between the two groups’ leaders and has enlisted the support of Arab diplomats to help narrow the differences. More than two years of Egyptian mediation efforts have so far failed.

Masri’s efforts led to a phone discussion between senior Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar and Fatah official Azzam Ahmed that has been well publicized among Palestinians.

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