DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) – Syrian President Bashar Assad discussed Sunday the Mideast peace process and efforts to reconcile Palestinian factions with his Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas, an aide said.
Nabil Abu Rdeneh did not say whether Abbas would meet with Khaled Mashaal, the exiled leader of the militant Hamas group, Abbas’ chief rival.
Pressed later by The Associated Press on whether Abbas will meet Hamas leaders, Abu Rdeneh said, “this visit is only to Syria and President Assad.”
The meeting comes as Syria and Israel are holding indirect peace talks through a Turkish mediation and as the bitter rivalry between Abbas’ Fatah and Hamas enters its 13th month.
Asked by reporters about his meeting with Assad, Abbas said: “Excellent.” He did not elaborate.
The deep rift between the largest two Palestinian groups goes back to June 2007 after fighters loyal to Hamas forcibly seized control of Gaza from Fatah.
The visit comes a month after Abbas called for reconciliation talks, though he says Hamas must cede power in Gaza.
Abu Rdeneh told reporters that “all issues regarding the Palestinian-Israeli track and the Syrian-track were discussed.” He added that the leaders discussed “President Abu Mazen’s (Abbas) initiative and efforts that are being exerted for a comprehensive Palestinian reconciliation.”
Former Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qurei told reporters that Abbas will meet some members of Syria-based Palestinian factions but did not say whether Hamas would be among them.
Syria hosts several Palestinian factions opposed to Abbas. Syria which holds the Arab League presidency has promised to help Palestinian dialogue to succeed.
On Thursday, Assad met with Mashaal and discussed ways of achieving reconciliation.
Over the past year there have been several efforts, notably by Egypt and later by Yemen, to solve disagreements between the two rivals, but to no avail.
Abu Rdeneh said the Yemeni initiative was adopted by the Arab summit that was held in Syria in March. He added that “we are ready to implement the Arab-Yemeni initiative whenever Hamas approves it.”
The Yemeni initiative calls for the creation of a national unity government and the rebuilding of security forces loyal to a common government rather than to factions. It also calls for Arab states such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Jordan, to form a council to oversee the implementation of the plan.
Hamas won the January 2006 Palestinian elections, but later its leaders differed with Abbas on power sharing and peace with Israel. The struggle climaxed with Hamas’ Gaza takeover, splitting control of the Palestinian territories in two.
Last month, Abbas sent an envoy to the Gaza Strip to pave the way for reconciliation talks with Hamas.