Palestinians hold torches and posters of late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat
Palestinians hold torches and posters of late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and late Hamas founder and spiritual leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin. Photo by AP
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Gazan Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh announced a series of measures on Monday  aimed at bringing reconciliation between Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, and its main rival, Fatah, which controls the Palestinian Authority that runs the West Bank.

Haniyeh said anyone who left the Gaza Strip for political reasons will be allowed to return, several Fatah activists currently imprisoned in Gaza will be released, and Fatah members of parliament who reside in the Fatah-controlled West Bank will now be allowed to visit Gaza.

“We are doing this out of an understanding of the sensitive situation the Palestinian issue is in,” Haniyeh said, predicting that this would be the year Hamas-Fatah reconciliation finally happened. “These decisions are for the sake of implementing reconciliation and unification,” he said.

Sources in Ramallah said the efforts toward reconciliation also included a telephone conversation between Haniyeh and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who is also head of Fatah, and meetings between senior Fatah and Hamas officials in Cairo and the Qatari capital of Doha. The sources said these efforts are meant to signal to the Americans that reconciliation with Hamas remains an option for the PA if its negotiations with Israel produce no results.

Nevertheless, they added, because the American-sponsored talks with Israel are still on, the reconciliation effort isn’t expected to bear fruit for now.

Despite years of sporadic efforts at reconciliation that even produced several signed agreements, the Hamas-Fatah rift has remained unresolved. Currently, their main dispute is over holding presidential and parliamentary elections before the outline of a Palestinian unity government is agreed on, as Fatah demands, or only after such an agreement is reached, as Hamas insists upon.

In December, Haaretz reported that the massive storm that hit the region led to a phone call between Abbas and Khaled Meshal, head of Hamas outside Gaza, as well as an indirect offer of humanitarian assistance to Gaza’s storm victims from Mohammed Dahlan, a former senior Fatah official who is one of Hamas’ bitterest enemies. Dahlan offered to use his close ties with officials in the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia to secure aid for the Strip.