Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas is not serious about reconciling with political rival Hamas despite public statements to the contrary, a senior Hamas official said in an interview published Wednesday.
The official, Mahmoud Zahar, said Abbas "is not interested in achieving" a deal with Hamas, allegedly because the U.S.¬ and Israel oppose it.
"Reconciliation will not be achieved at all," Zahar told the London-based daily Asharq al-Awsat.
Abbas and Hamas' supreme leader, Khaled Meshal, met last week to try to move head with a reconciliation deal they reached in principle in May. After their meeting, the two leaders said they opened a new page in relations and narrowed their differences. It was their first serious sitdown since Hamas wrested the Gaza Strip from Abbas in a violent takeover in 2007.
Earlier this week, Abbas moved a step further, setting May 4 as the date for elections that are to be held as part of the reconciliation agreement.
However, it remains unclear whether Abbas is engaged in political maneuvering or serious about the deal, which could prompt a Western backlash, including political isolation and possible cuts in foreign funding of Abbas' West Bank-based Palestinian Authority.
Zahar, a Hamas strongman, was a key figure in the 2007 Gaza takeover. He was not part of the Hamas delegation of that accompanied Meshal to Cairo for his meeting with Abbas last week.
Ahmed Assaf, a spokesman of Abbas' Fatah movement, said Zahar's comments reflect internal divisions in Hamas.
"President Abbas and the Fatah leadership are keen to end the split," Assaf said. "We have the impression that the Hamas leadership is interested in that, too, despite some voices, like Zahar's."
Zahar's comments came as Israel's cabinet approved the handover of frozen tax collection funds to the Palestinian Authority on Wednesday, citing, among other reasons, the failure of Fatah and Hamas to form a unity government.
One of the move's biggest opposes, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who voted against the motion on Wednesday, indicated in recent weeks that Israel would be wrong to transfer the funds because they could end up being used by a Fatah-Hamas unity government.
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