A top Fatah official says the Hamas terrorist group has agreed to release its political prisoners and reopen the faction's headquarters in Gaza in what appears to be a move towards reconciliation.
Central Committee member Nabil Sha'ath told the Bethlehem-based Ma'an news agency Monday that he had recently traveled to Gaza in his first visit since Hamas seized control of the region in 2007. He also claimed that Fatah officials are able to enter Gaza without special permits.
Less than a month ago, Fatah security chief Muhammad Dahlan skipped his own mother's funeral in the region due to the high risk to his life and the numerous restrictions imposed upon him by the Hamas authorities. Ma'an reported at the time that the conditions included a requirement to file a formal request with the de facto Hamas government for permission to enter Gaza, and a mandate to remain in the terror group's custody for the duration of his stay.
However, Sha'ath claimed that during his own visit he had “rejected [Hamas's] security escort or visits to their government offices, and [I] held meetings freely.”
He added that Hamas had requested better treatment for its members in Judea and Samaria and said it would also send a delegation to the area, which is controlled by Fatah. “I said, 'Welcome, I came here with permission from the occupying authorities, so whoever wants to visit [Judea and Samaria] is more than welcome,'” Sha'ath related.
The exchange of delegations may indeed signal tentative steps towards reconciliation ahead of next month's Arab summit, scheduled to take place March 27-28 in Tripoli. Arab leaders have been pressuring Hamas to sign an Egyptian-crafted document outlining a formal “sulhah”, or reconciliation, between the two factions.
Egypt and Saudi Arabia have been working for years since 2007, when the last PA unity government fell apart, to force the two factions to re-form and maintain a unity government. An early effort failed within days and disintegrated into a bloody militia war that tore Gaza apart and left the region under the iron grip of Hamas.
PA Municipal Elections Due in July
The Ramallah-based PA government, controlled by Fatah leader and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, plans to hold general municipal PA elections on July 17.
The Hamas faction responded with anger to Monday's announcement, claiming the current government, officially led by PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, an independent, is not legitimate.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum told the Reuters news agency the PA cannot hold elections until after a national reconciliation is completed between the two factions, but Fatah has said it will carry out the elections anyway.