Abbas, Meshal - AFP - November 24, 2011
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, right, meets with Hamas chief Khaled Meshal, third left, in Cairo, November 24, 2011. Photo by AFP
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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Meshal said Thursday that they significantly narrowed their differences and opened a new page in relations, after meeting in Cairo for the first time since 2007.

The two met for two hours, their first working meeting since Hamas seized Gaza in 2007, leaving Abbas with only the West Bank.

The two are trying to finalize a unity deal that would include forming an interim unity government and elections in May.

Meshal said "with this meeting, we opened a new page." Abbas said "there are no differences about any of the issues."

There were several other points of agreement, Azzam el-Ahmad, a senior Fatah leader attending the talks, told a news conference in Cairo.

These include: releasing Hamas and Fatah members held by the other side; preparing for the elections; and reinforcing "the popular confrontations against the Israeli occupation," he said.

"We have discussed everything, mainly the political developments that the Palestinian cause is passing through and all the details," Meshal said. "We are interested in working together as partners and our responsibility to serve our people is the same."

Ofir Gendelman, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's spokesman for the Arabic media, reacted to the meeting by posting on the Twitter social networking site that Palestinian Authority unity with Hamas would have "serious repercussions on the Palestinian people's future and on the prospects for peace."

The Fatah-Hamas reconciliation deal was announced in May, but its implementation has been held up, in part because the sides have been unable to agree on who would head a unity interim government to rule until the new elections take place.

Abbas had been sticking by the present prime minister of the West Bank-based government, Salam Fayyad, an internationally renowned economist, respected by the West, but not by Hamas. But Fayyad said recently he would not stand in the way of Palestinian unity.

The Palestinian Ma'an news agency reported that Abbas and Mashaal did not discuss the formation of the unity interim government.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Wednesday that Israel would have no dealings with any Palestinian government which included Hamas, unless the Islamic movement agreed to renounce violence, honor past Israeli-Palestinian agreements, and recognize Israel's right to exist.

These conditions were stipulated by the international Quartet - the US, Russia, the EU and the UN - when Hamas won the last Palestinian elections, in 2006.

Hamas is set to remain the target of a Western diplomatic boycott until it complies. Still, its leaders have repeatedly said they will never recognize Israel, which they want replaced with an Islamic state in all of historic Palestine.

Hamas official Salah al-Bardaweel reiterated these points on Tuesday, saying in a statement that, even if a unity government is agreed upon, Hamas will not abide by the Quartet's requirements, will not recognize Israel and would reject any security cooperation with it."

"We hope we have opened a new chapter," Hamas' spokesman in Gaza, Fawzi Barhoum, said in a statement Thursday.

But previous Hamas-Fatah declarations of unity, reconciliation and cooperation have remained on paper only.

The reconciliation deal is meant to end a bitter, and at times violent, feud between Hamas and Fatah. The two movements have never been close allies, but their relations soured dramatically when Hamas defeated Fatah in the 2006 Palestinian elections.

A national unity government between the two was short-lived, and fell apart in June 2007, when, in a week of fierce fighting, Hamas chased security officials loyal to Abbas and to the Palestinian Authority out of the Gaza Strip and seized sole control of it.

he clashes left the Palestinian territories divided politically as well as geographically, with Hamas running the Gaza Strip, and an Abbas-appointed government in charge of the West Bank.

Earlier Thursday, Netanyahu said that in order to restart stalled Mideast peace talks, the Palestinian Authority should “stop the reconciliation process with Hamas and choose to distance themselves from unilateral moves.”

Senior officials in the Prime Minister's office said Thursday that the warming ties between the PA and Hamas "push peace farther away." Netanyahu's office also said that "the meeting today in Cairo seems like a ceremonial event only, and it is still unclear whether the sides will indeed form a unity government."

קראו כתבה זו בעברית: מחמוד עבאס אחרי הפגישה עם חאלד משעל בקהיר: לא נותרו בינינו מחלוקות