RAMALLAH, West Bank, (Reuters) – Egypt will host talks in the coming days with Palestinian politicians in a bid to ease factional tensions that erupted in violence this month in Gaza, Palestinian and Egyptian officials said on Friday.
Palestinian Deputy Prime Minister Azzam al-Ahmad, a close aide to President Mahmoud Abbas of the Fatah movement, told Reuters that he and another Fatah leader, Rawhi Fattouh, would travel to Cairo on Saturday to meet Egyptian officials. “The aim of the meeting is to cement the ceasefire, to make sure that there will be no return to internal fighting,” Ahmad said, adding that the Fatah representatives would also discuss ways of negotiating a comprehensive ceasefire with Israel.
An official close to arrangements for the talks said Egypt was also inviting leaders of Fatah’s main rival, the Hamas Islamist group, for similar talks later, in the hope of finding common ground between the two movements. Fighting between them in Gaza has killed about 50 people this month.
A Hamas spokesman, Fawzi Barhoum, said he was aware of the Egyptian move. Hamas was waiting for its own formal invitation to Cairo and would welcome one if it came, he added. “As far as we know, Egypt has invited leaders from Fatah for talks in Cairo. We have not had an official invitation yet but we would welcome any invitation from Cairo,” Barhoum said. “We would respond to any invitation by Cairo and to any Arab effort to support Palestinian rights and to establish a constructive Palestinian internal dialogue and defuse tensions.”
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, at a news conference in Cairo, gave no detail on plans for the talks and indicated Egypt’s frustrations with efforts to play a mediating role in the Gaza Strip, which borders its own territory. “When Egypt sends out invitations for talks between Fatah and Hamas, it must be sure that they will carry out what they agree to and remain committed to it,” Egypt’s MENA news agency said in its report of the foreign minister’s remarks. “The climate must be right for such a meeting for it to achieve its aim … Egypt does not favour inviting people to meetings and then a few weeks later having fighting take place that is more intense than before.” Egypt hosted a meeting a month ago between Abbas and Hamas’s exiled leader Khaled Meshaal, whose groups formed a national unity government in March to try to ease friction. Yet two weeks ago, serious fighting again broke out between them in Gaza.
A relative calm has held between them for the past few days but Israel has continued pounding Hamas position from the air in response to rocket attacks by the Islamists on Israel. Previous ceasfire deals have rarely lasted long.
Abbas called on Hamas on Thursday to stop firing rockets, saying they were an obstacle to negotiating a broader ceasefire with the Jewish state. Hamas officials rejected that call. Several more rockets have since fallen inside Israel.