Khaled Abu Toameh
The Jerusalem Post
March 20, 2011 - 12:00am

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s offer to visit the Gaza Strip has sparked a dispute within Hamas, sources there said on Sunday.

Last week, Abbas announced his readiness to travel to the Gaza Strip, for the first time since 2007, to hold talks with Hamas leaders on the formation of a Palestinian unity government.

The announcement came shortly after Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh invited Abbas to urgent talks in the Gaza Strip to discuss ways of ending the feud between the two sides.

Hamas and Fatah are facing heavy pressure from Palestinians to end their dispute and agree to sit together in a unity government.

A Facebook campaign to end the dispute has seen thousands of Palestinians take to the streets in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to call for unity.

But not everyone in Hamas seems to be happy with the idea of having Abbas in the Gaza Strip.

According to the sources, Hamas leaders in Syria and the movement’s armed wing, Izaddin al-Kassam, have come out in public against the visit.

Their position has embarrassed Haniyeh and other Hamas senior officials in the Gaza Strip, who have welcomed Abbas’s initiative and expressed readiness to receive him.

Mohammed Nazzal, a Hamas political figure based in Damascus, lashed out at Abbas, comparing him to Arab dictators and tyrants “who have not yet learned the lesson.”

Nazzal described Abbas’s initiative as a “ploy,” noting that the PA president had made the offer to visit the Gaza Strip while ignoring Haniyeh’s invitation.

He also urged Abbas and his aides to “learn the lesson” from the current uprisings in the Arab world and to stop relying on the US as an honest broker in the Middle East conflict.

In Gaza City, a spokesman for Izaddin al-Kassam, Abu Obaida, said that his group was conditioning Abbas’s visit to the Gaza Strip on the release of Hamas detainees from PA prisons in the West Bank.

“It’s shameful for the Fatah authority to talk about reconciliation while it’s holding our warriors and conducting security coordination with the occupation,” he said. “Abbas’s initiative will remain ink on paper unless he stops arresting our men and coordinating with the occupation. This is the only way he could prove that he’s sincere about reconciliation.”

Over the weekend, the group launched mortar attacks on Israel in an apparent bid to foil Abbas’s plan to visit the Gaza Strip, the sources pointed out.

However, Abu Obaida claimed that the attacks came in response to the killing by the IDF of two Hamas operatives.

Zakariya al-Agha, member of the PLO Executive Committee, said he believed that if all goes well, Abbas will arrive in the Gaza Strip early next week.

Noting that Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip had welcomed Abbas’s initiative, al-Agha expressed hope that the Islamist movement would respond positively.

However, he said that there were still some “obstacles” that needed to be over come to enable the visit to take place. He did not elaborate.

Yusef Rizka, political advisor to Haniyeh, complained that Israel was trying to foil efforts to achieve reconciliation between his movement and Fatah by escalating the situation in the Gaza Strip.

He said that recent tensions were also linked to the wave of popular uprisings in the Arab world “which are against Israeli occupation.”

He too criticized Abbas for saying that his visit to the Gaza Strip was only aimed at discussing the establishment of a unity government to prepare for new elections and not to hold reconciliation talks with Hamas.

Rizka said that the elections can’t take place before Hamas and Fatah reach agreement on ending their dispute.


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