Palestinian Authority Chairman and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) is quietly making rapid progress in his efforts to forge a new alliance with the rival Hamas terrorist faction in Gaza.
Abbas has been engaging in some shuttle diplomacy in recent weeks, criss-crossing the Middle East from Cairo to Damascus for talks with Arab leaders on how best to approach his internal enemies in order to bring about a rapprochement.
He is also reportedly hoping to avoid having to leave office in January, when his term ends, by winning an extension from the terrorist faction that wrested control of the Gaza region from his Fatah loyalists.
The Quartet, comprised of Russia, the United States, European Union and United Nations, unfroze funds to the Fatah-led PA, which is governed by Abbas, on condition that he would not reconcile with Hamas until it was willing to recognize the State of Israel.
Hamas has repeatedly emphasized its refusal to acknowledge Israel's right to exist, to uphold commitments with the Jewish State negotiated by prior PA governments, or to renounce terrorism.
Abbas Meets with Assad on Hamas, Israel
On Sunday Abbas met with President Bashar Assad and told the Syrian leader that it is time for the rivalry between his faction and Hamas to end. "No one will respect us if we continue on this way," he said.
Abbas was also expected to discuss the recent indirect talks between Israel and Syria, and the ongoing negotiations between Israel and the PA. Both Fatah and Hamas have expressed increasing support for Syrian participation in the process.
"The Palestinian Authority views Syria as a main part of any agreement regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict," said a Hamas spokesman. "Everyone agrees that a comprehensive agreement must be reached, which will return all the lands occupied in 1967, including the Golan Heights."
Ahead of the meeting, an aide to Abbas noted that "Syria is a partner in solving the refugee problem…. [Abbas] will raise the issue in his meeting with the Syrian president." Israel has refused PA demands to allow some five million foreign Arab descendants of those who fled their homes during the 1948 War of Independence to immigrate to the Jewish State in what Arabs refer to as the "right of return."
Abbas was also expected to appeal to Assad to pressure Hamas leaders into coming to an agreement with Fatah over the upcoming PA elections.
Nimar Hamad, advisor to Abbas, was quoted by the London-based Arabic-language daily newspaper ash-Sharq il-Awsat on Sunday as saying that "Syria has a strong influence on the Palestinian factions, whose leaders are in its territory, and particularly on Hamas."
Hamas Also in Damascus
A Hamas delegation from Gaza including former PA Foreign Minister Mahmoud az-Zahar arrived in Damascus on Saturday just hours before Abbas made his way to the Syrian capital. The group reportedly had arrived to discuss with their Damascus counterparts, including political bureau chief Khaled Mashaal, the recent talks held with Egyptian officials in Cairo.
Among the issues to be discussed are the stalled talks with Israel over kidnapped IDF Staff Sgt. Gilad Shalit, who has been held in captivity by Hamas terrorists since being abducted on June 25, 2006. But the real focus is on the rapidly re-forming bond between Fatah and Hamas being facilitated with the assistance of Egypt and Syria, referred to by Mashaal during a Sunday conference on Jerusalem held in Qatar. "We have reached a compromise," he announced to reporters.