Abbas speaks to Hamas official after Gaza killings

GAZA – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called a leader of rival Hamas on Wednesday to commiserate on the killing of his son by Israeli forces, Hamas said, the first such contact since a Palestinian factional schism last year.

Hamas routed Abbas’s secular Fatah to take over the Gaza Strip in June, prompting the Palestinian president to shun the Islamist group and step up Western-sponsored peace efforts with Israel. Hamas refuses to give up fighting the Jewish state.

Hamas said Abbas suspended his boycott by phoning Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior Hamas official whose son, a gunman, was among 18 Palestinians killed in Israeli attacks on Gaza on Tuesday.

“In the first call since June, President Mahmoud telephoned Dr. Mahmoud al-Zahar … and paid his condolences at the killing of Zahar’s son,” said Taher al-Nono, spokesman for the Hamas administration in Gaza.

“The telephone conversation was very friendly and the two leaders spoke at length about the current political situation and they both stressed the unity of the Palestinian people regardless of the differences.”

Abbas aides had no immediate comment.

The Palestinian president, whose mandate is now effectively limited to the Israeli-occupied West Bank, previously rebuffed reconciliation offers from Hamas, saying it must first cede Gaza and submit to his authority.

Israeli officials have said rapprochement between Abbas and Hamas could scupper peace talks.

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