Gaza’s Hamas government freed seven imprisoned Fatah members Wednesday, as part of efforts to mend relations between the Islamist movement and its West Bank-based Palestinian rival, officials said.
“The release of these condemned men comes as part of the prime minister’s decisions to strengthen national reconciliation,” Hamas interior ministry spokesman Islam Shahwan told reporters.
“More positive steps will follow,” he added, without elaborating.
The releases came two days after Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya reached out to Fatah, saying that those of its members who had fled Gaza when the Islamists seized the territory in 2007 would be allowed to return, except for those accused of killing Hamas members.
“The (Hamas) government will allow all Fatah members who are from Gaza and who left the Strip to return, without any preconditions,” Haniya said.
It was the latest in a series of overtures by Hamas to Fatah, which dominates the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, as Israel and Egypt have tightened a blockade on Gaza.
In October, Haniya spoke by telephone to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, stressing the need for reconciliation and “a return to national unity.”
Longtime tensions between Hamas and Fatah boiled over in a week of fighting in 2007 that left the Islamist movement in control of Gaza and effectively divided the Palestinian territories in two.
The two sides have made repeated attempts to heal the rift, including an Egyptian-brokered deal in 2011 in which they agreed to make way for an interim government of independents to organise fresh elections throughout the territories.
The agreement has never been implemented.