Egyptian mediators failed Thursday to persuade Hamas militants to accept court-ordered re-votes in three Gaza local elections it won, casting a shadow over an upcoming parliamentary vote and possibly endangering a truce with Israel.
However, Hamas leaders indicated they are still open to persuasion and said they would meet again with rival Fatah representatives soon. Both have their sights on the more important parliamentary elections set for the summer but likely to be postponed. Fatah is headed by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
The meeting Thursday was the first between the Egyptian mediators and the two sides together. Egypt has been trying to settle the dispute, fulfilling a mediating role it has handled in previous Palestinian disputes and projects, including the cease-fire, declared February 8.
Hamas has threatened to walk away from the cease-fire unless Fatah accepts results in the Gaza towns of Rafah and Beit Lahiya, and the Bureij refugee camp. Hamas won those races and many others, forecasting a strong showing in the parliamentary elections.
A special court, acting on Fatah charges of irregularities in some of the May 4 races, ordered partial re-votes in the three localities, heating up Hamas-Fatah tensions.
"We agreed to maintain our national unity, to overcome the ongoing crisis, to adopt the language of dialogue as the only language to be used to solve differences, so we are going to have another meeting with our brothers from Fatah... before we declare our final stand regarding the participation in the re-vote," Hamas leader Ismail Haniya said after the five-hour meeting Thursday.
A top Fatah official in Gaza, Abdullah Franji, said that by meeting, the two parties helped to relieve the tensions. "Now we should focus our efforts on dialogue," Franji said.
Haniya denied reports that Hamas had decided to participate in re-votes. During the Gaza meeting, the Palestinian election commission issued a statement saying Hamas would take part in the new round of voting.
The dispute plays into the larger issue of the parliamentary elections, where Hamas is expected to capitalize on widespread disillusionment with Fatah. Hamas is fielding candidates for the first time.
Palestinian officials said this week that the elections are likely to be delayed from the current July 17 date until November. Fatah is interested in a delay to try to stem the tide against it, but Hamas is hotly opposed.
The date was agreed on as part of the truce package when Hamas and Islamic Jihad signed on. Hamas has threatened to cancel the truce if the election date is changed.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now