Gaza's Hamas government on Wednesday freed seven imprisoned Fatah members, AFP reported, part of efforts to mend relations between the Islamist movement and its Ramallah-based rival.
“The release of these condemned men comes as part of the prime minister's decisions to strengthen national reconciliation,” Hamas interior ministry spokesman Islam Shahwan told reporters.
“More positive steps will follow,” he added, without elaborating.
The releases came two days after Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh reached out to Fatah, saying that those of its members who had fled Gaza when the Islamists seized the territory in 2007 would be allowed to return, except for those accused of killing Hamas members.
“The (Hamas) government will allow all Fatah members who are from Gaza and who left the Strip to return, without any preconditions,” Haniyeh said, according to AFP.
It was the latest in a series of overtures by Hamas to Fatah, which have been at odds since 2007, when Hamas violently took control of Gaza, set up its own government there and began cracking down on Fatah officials who reside in the territory.
In October, Haniyeh spoke by telephone to Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who heads Fatah, and stressed the need for reconciliation and “a return to national unity.”
Fatah and Hamas signed a reconciliation deal in Cairo in 2011, pledging to set up an interim consensus government of independents that would pave the way for legislative and presidential elections within 12 months.
Implementation of the accord stalled over the make-up of the interim government, and a February 2012 deal signed by Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in Doha intended to overcome outstanding differences was opposed by Hamas members in Gaza.
Ismail Haniyeh last month invited Abbas to a meeting to discuss the formation of a unity government.
The comments come several days after Hamas notified Abbas of its decision to join a national unity government which will prepare for upcoming presidential and parliamentarian elections.
That notification came after a rare phone conversation between Abbas and Mashaal.