Hamas officials in Cairo signaled their willingness on Wednesday to discuss conflicting Palestinian agendas for new elections, following a meeting with Egypt's intelligence head meant to promote reconciliation among feuding Palestinian factions.
The high level Hamas delegation, including members from Syria and Gaza, met with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman to discuss Egyptian proposals to resolve the split between them and Fatah, especially over the issue of the timing of new elections.
"We in Hamas accept that elections are on the table for discussion," said Khalil al-Haya, Gaza-based Hamas member, who still made it clear that Hamas opposes Fatah's call for simultaneous presidential and legislative elections.
Fatah and Hamas have been at odds since the latter's violent takeover of the Gaza Strip in June 2007. Following the takeover, Fatah leader and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas dissolved the Hamas-led government from his base in the West Bank and formed a new administration excluding the more radical group.
Fatah supports the Egyptian proposal to hold simultaneous elections - an idea opposed by Hamas.
Abbas' presidential term is set to expire on Jan. 8, but the Hamas-controlled parliament is currently scheduled to remain in power until January 2010.
Moussa Abu Marzouk, a top Hamas official based in Damascus said members of the rival Palestinian factions would form technical committees by the end of the month to discuss the timing of elections, a national unity government and reforming security services.
"The committees will take their time, one or two or three months, these are issues that cannot be resolved in days or weeks," he told reporters.
As far as face-to-face talks with Fatah, Damascus-based Hamas member Mohammed Nasr said he expected them to take place by the end of the month.
Before losing power in legislative elections in 2006, Fatah passed a law stipulating that future presidential and parliamentary elections be held simultaneously. But the Hamas-controlled parliament never approved the change.
Hamas legislators approved a resolution Monday demanding that Abbas hold presidential elections within three months, to coincide with what Hamas says is the end of his term. The resolution says Hamas will cease to recognize Abbas as president after Jan. 8 and replace him with one of its own leaders if the elections do not take place.
Egypt hopes a series of bilateral meetings with Palestinian leaders will culminate in talks between both factions next month, according to the Egyptian news agency. A failure to end the rift before the end of Abbas' presidency will further deepen the divide and could trigger instability in the West Bank.
Egypt has also floated the idea of an Arab troop deployment to Gaza to end Hamas' control and re-establish the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority there. Hamas and other radical Palestinian groups have said they oppose the idea.