Hamas leadership approves unity deal

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (center right) and Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal after their meeting in Cairo.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (center right) and Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal after their meeting in Cairo. (AMR NABIL / Associated Press)
Posted: February 23, 2012

CAIRO - The leadership of the Islamic extremist Hamas settled internal disagreements and approved a unity deal Wednesday with its political rival, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, a senior official said.

Hamas' political bureau, its top decision-making body, met in Cairo and signed off on the deal after more than 12 hours of talks over two days, said Izzat al-Rishq, an aide to Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal.

Since 2007, the rivals have run separate governments - Abbas in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza. An agreement signed Feb. 6 in Qatar between Mashaal and Abbas envisions Abbas heading an interim unity government ahead of general elections in the Palestinian territories.

Hamas leaders in Gaza, who have the most to lose from the unity deal, had objected to relinquishing power to Abbas. The group has employed tens of thousands of people in official posts in the territory who now face integration into larger Palestinian bodies that might be headed by Abbas loyalists.

While the deal might still face opposition from the Hamas rank-and-file, Rishq suggested that the movement's leaders were now on board.

Abbas and Mashaal met later Wednesday in Cairo to discuss the next steps in the deal, including formation of an interim government to be made up of politically independent technocrats. Such a composition is meant to lower the profile of Hamas, which the West shuns as a terrorist organization.

A Hamas-run TV station in Gaza quoted Mashaal as saying that the meeting was positive and that he and Abbas were moving in the right direction for the good of the Palestinians.

Abbas enjoys the support of the United States and European countries, but it remains unclear how much he would lose if reconciliation with Hamas moved forward.

Israel and the international community have said they will not deal with Hamas unless it renounces violence and recognizes Israel.

By forming an alliance with Hamas, Abbas risks losing hundreds of millions of dollars in international aid, though Palestinian officials hope that signals of moderation from Hamas will make the new government acceptable to the West.

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