Damascus, Ramallah, Asharq Al-Awsat- Informed Palestinian sources have stated to Asharq Al-Awsat that Syria has proposed to arrange a meeting between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and leader of the Hamas politico-bureau Khalid Mishal, as well as other Palestinian faction leaders present in Damascus “in order to push forward the efforts for Palestinian reconciliation.”
In Ramallah, the Palestinian Authority [PA] confirmed that President Abbas is set to visit Damascus in the next few days after the details of this visit are confirmed. This visit comes following an invitation from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, however the PA denied that there was any intention to meet with Mishal.
Asharq Al-Awsat reported yesterday that Mahmoud Abbas had received an invitation to visit Damascus from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and that Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, had secretly visited Damascus two weeks ago where he received this invitation [for Abbas to visit].
Palestinian sources in Damascus yesterday said that Erekat “requested that the Syrians invite Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] to visit Damascus” and that the Syrian side welcomed this visit and proposed to arrange a meeting between Abbas and Mishal during that time. The Palestinian source added that “Syria is making effort to achieve Palestinian reconciliation and unity” however official Syrian sources refused to comment on these reports.
Palestinian sources said that Mahmoud Abbas’s visit to Damascus would take place “if there is an agreement on the mechanism [of this visit] and Syria’s proposals.” The source also pointed out that Abbas’s visit to Damascus will take place “following the efforts made by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with Abu Mazen [Abbas] and the Hamas movement following the visits made by Abu Mazen and [Khalid] Mishal to Riyadh.”
The source added that “the efforts that are being made by Saudi Arabia are among those being made in order to achieve Palestinian and Arab reconciliation, as well as seeking to hold a tripartite summit between Egypt, Syria, and Saudi Arabia in Riyadh.”
On Friday, an official source in the Saudi Foreign Ministry stressed that the Palestinian reconciliation file is in Egypt’s hands, refuting reports by some news agencies that Saudi Arabia has taken over reconciliation efforts from Egypt. The source also confirmed that “the remarks made by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal from Riyadh and Cairo has clarified that the reconciliation file is completely in the hands of our Egyptian brothers, and he [Prince Saud al-Faisal] expressed his hopes that there will be a quick response to the Egyptian proposal on restoring Palestinian unity.”
As for the timeframe of Abbas’s visit to Damascus, Palestinian sources sad that a schedule has yet to be worked out, but that this is expected to occur in the near future. The source also said that the Syrians are waiting for Abbas to respond to their proposal that he meet with Palestinian factions, because they want his visit to “give a boost to Palestinian reconciliation, in order for this mechanism to be completed in Cairo.”
For his part, Saeb Erekat, a member of the Fatah Central Committee, said in Ramallah yesterday that any meeting between Abbas and Mishal, or even meetings between their staff-members, will not take place. He said that the rumors that are currently being circulated in this regard have no bases in fact.
Yasser Abd Rabbo, Secretary-General of the PLO Executive Committee said “I do not think that this [meeting] will take place, and I do not think that any meeting with Mishal will take place, either in Damascus or in any other location.”
Abd Rabbo said that “such leaks are aimed at inciting against Egypt, and presenting it [Egypt] as being unable to achieve Palestinian reconciliation and that another Arab capital is able to do this, in light of futile regional conflict”
Abd Rabbo also accused the Hamas leadership of seeking to divide “the Gaza cake” with the Fatah movement, without elections or signing the Egyptian reconciliation proposal. He stressed that no Palestinian faction has the right to do this.
Abd Rabbo called on the Hamas movement to pay attention to “the bigger battle” being faced by the Palestinian people, and this is represented by the Israel settlement project. He accused the Hamas movement of not being concerned with this, saying that Hamas “is pouring all of its energy against Egypt with the goal of preserving the tunnels [between Gaza and Egypt] which will result in the continuation of the robbery and the exploitation of Palestinian blood.”
Other officials said that there is no point in holding such a meeting at this point, prior to achieving inter-Palestinian reconciliation. Sources in the Palestinian Authority told Asharq Al-Awsat that the PA is looking at this issue [of meeting with Mishal] as one that aims to embarrass Egypt, and that it makes no sense in light of the Egyptian efforts and the Syrian role opposing the PA that a breakthrough will take place in Damascus. According to sources, Abbas wants the completion and signing of the reconciliation agreement to take place in Egypt, and not in any other country.
In a report by the official Syrian News Agency [SANA] Syrian President Bashar al-Assad confirmed “Syria’s keenness on reuniting the Palestinian people and closing their ranks, affirming supporting to all efforts that could help achieve Palestinian reconciliation and end divisions” during a meeting with leader of the Hamas politico-bureau in Damascus. President al-Assad was also quoted as saying that “reconciliation is the only way for the Palestinians to restore their rights and to overcome the challenges facing…the Palestinian cause.”
This report also said that Mishal expressed “great appreciation of the role played by Syria and President al-Assad to help the Palestinian people top lift the siege imposed upon them, and unite their ranks.”
This meeting took place just days after Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal’s visit to Damascus, and the issue of Palestinian reconciliation was on the top of the agenda during his discussions with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. This came following a visit by Khalid Mishal to Riyadh, as part of an Arab regional tour including visits to Yemen, Iran, Libya, and Bahrain. Mishal met with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem last Thursday as part of Arab efforts to achieve Palestinian reconciliation.
In this same context, leaders of Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as well as the Supreme Follow-up Committee of the Palestinian National Conference, and a number of Palestinian figures, met yesterday, in order to confirm their rejection of “the American actions and the communications being undertaken by some Arab regimes, in order to restore the path to negotiations with the Zionist enemy.” As well as to reject “the American plan that aims to return to futile negotiations, undermining the strength of the resistance and seeking to subjugate the Gaza Strip for political purposes in the context of the American – Israeli vision.” In a statement that Asharq Al-Awsat managed to obtain a copy of, this meeting also condemned “the role played by the Egyptian authorities in tightening the siege on the Gaza Strip and by establishing a steel wall along its border with the Gaza Strip.”