Last updated: 14 January, 2012

In gesture to Fatah, Hamas to return Abbas’s Gaza home

Hamas pledged to quit a residence of Fatah leader Mahmud Abbas its fighters seized in 2007, in reconciliation talks between the two main Palestinian factions on Saturday.

“We tell our brothers in Fatah that they can take the home of president Abu Mazen,” Hamas official Khalil al-Haya said at a joint news conference with Fatah’s Zakariya al-Agha, using the name by which Abbas is familiarly known.

But Diab al-Louh, a Fatah official in Gaza, told official Palestinian news agency WAFA that Hamas insisted on maintaining its own guard on the premises.

“Hamas in Gaza informed the Fatah leadership after a meeting in Gaza that they can receive president Mahmoud Abbas’s house, while keeping security personnel deployed by Hamas outside the house under the pretext of protecting the house as it is personal property,” he said.

At the meeting, hosted by Gaza Hamas leader Ismail Haniya in his home, the two sides also agreed to reopen local offices of the Palestinian Electoral Commission as a prelude to new elections.

Last month, Abbas, the West Bank-based president, met Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal in Cairo and they decided on a process to pave the way for Hamas to join a reformed Palestine Liberation Organisation and for long-delayed Palestinian elections.

“It was agreed to reopen the headquarters of the Central Election Commission in the Gaza Strip,” a source close to Saturday’s Gaza meeting told AFP. No date was given.

Since 2007, when Hamas forcibly seized power in Gaza, routing Fatah forces loyal to Abbas, the Palestinian territories have been politically divided into two, with Fatah largely ruling the West Bank and Hamas governing Gaza.

In April, following years of bitter rivalry, the two factions signed a reconciliation deal whose implementation has since stalled.

Last week a bipartisan “committee of general freedom” agreed on an imminent exchange of political prisoners held by each side and that newspapers produced in each area would be allowed into the other.

Such newspapers have been barred from the respective territories for several years because of divisions between the factions.

Al-Haya said that at Saturday’s talks, Haniya “confirmed that his government would implement the decisions of the freedom committee.”