Hamas urges Arabs to back reconciliation push

GAZA (Reuters) – Hamas wants this weekend’s Arab summit to back a Yemen-sponsored reconciliation agreement between the group and its Palestinian rival Fatah, a pro-Hamas Web site quoted the group’s leader as saying on Friday.

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, in exile in Syria, was also quoted as urging Arab leaders at their Damascus summit to support its fight with Israel. But he reiterated the Islamist group was open to a conditional truce with the Jewish state.

The Gaza-based Web site said Meshaal wrote to Arab leaders requesting support for Hamas-Fatah dialogue, after a Yemen-brokered agreement to revive talks between the rival factions appeared to falter this week.

Meshaal called on Arab leaders to “shoulder your national and brotherly responsibility to foster a Palestinian-Palestinian dialogue”, according to the report, which was also carried by London-based pan-Arab newspaper al-Hayat.

Hamas seized control of Gaza last June after routing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah forces. Abbas then sacked a Hamas-led unity government and pursued U.S.-backed peace talks with Israel.

After months of hostilities, the factions agreed this week to restart direct talks to “return the Palestinian situation to what it was before the Gaza incidents.” But an apparent dispute quickly broke out.

Hamas has said talks will start on April 5, while Abbas’s office insisted the Islamist group must first relinquish control of the Gaza Strip — a condition Hamas has rejected.

According to the Web site, Meshaal also urged Arab leaders to support the group’s fight against Israel and to protest against an Israeli-led blockade of Gaza, defending militant cross-border rocket attacks from Gaza as self defense.

But he also reiterated Hamas was ready to discuss a “comprehensive” ceasefire with Israel, which regularly launches raids in the territory it says are targeted at militants.

Several thousand Hamas supporters rallied in northern Gaza to press Arab leaders to do more to end the blockade.

“We need a practical decision to end the siege,” senior Hamas leader Khalil al-Hayya told the rally.

Hamas has said any ceasefire would depend on an end to Israeli acts of “aggression” in Gaza and the West Bank and the reopening of Gaza border crossings.

Egypt, with U.S. blessing, has been trying to broker a cessation of hostilities between Israel and militants in Gaza.

Israel, denying it is involved in ceasefire negotiations but saying it would have no reason to strike Hamas if salvoes ceased, has stopped targeting the group’s Gaza militants in what appears to be a de facto truce between the two enemies.

Hamas has suspended rocket fire, although other militant groups have kept up sporadic attacks.

“All Palestinian factions of resistance have expressed full readiness to deal with the issue of calm, on condition that it be comprehensive, reciprocal and simultaneous,” Meshaal was quoted as saying.

The two-day Arab summit opens in Damascus on Saturday.

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