In rare sign of amity, top Fatah official salutes new Hamas head

A senior official from Fatah telephoned to offer his congratulations to the newly appointed leader of rival Palestinian party Hamas, the organization said Sunday, in an unusual display of harmony between the warring rival groups.

Fatah Central Committee member Jibril Rajoub called to speak personally with Ismail Haniyeh after the latter was made leader of the Hamas terror group the day before, according to the official Hamas website.

The site said Rajoub offered Haniyeh his congratulations.

Hamas rules the Gaza Strip while the Palestinian Authority, dominated by President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party, controls the West Bank. The two groups had a violent falling out in 2007 as Hamas fighters ousted Fatah from the Gaza Strip. Several attempts at reconciliation have failed since.

Rajoub, a confidant of Abbas who also heads the official Palestinian soccer body, talked with Haniyeh about ways to bridge the deepening divide between Fatah and Hamas in order to unite the Palestinian people, the official Hamas website reported.

On Saturday Haniyeh, the former chief in the Gaza Strip, was elected to lead Hamas, succeeding Khaled Mashaal, who lives in exile in Qatar.

The 54-year-old Haniyeh takes charge of Hamas as it seeks to ease its international isolation. Last week the group issued a new program that accepts the notion of a Palestinian state in territories captured by Israel in the Six Day War of 1967, while still calling for the destruction of Israel.

The moves came amid spiraling tensions between the groups, with Abbas threatening to cut off funding to Gaza to pressure Hamas.

“Things will be painful,” he told a meeting with Arab ambassadors late Thursday before leaving Washington, where he had met with US President Donald Trump about resuming peace talks with Israel.

Hamas, which is considered a terror group by the US and Israel, has dismissed his strategy of negotiations as a waste of time.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh greeting supporters upon his return to Gaza City, after performing the Hajj pilgrimage, January 27, 2017. (AFP/MOHAMMED ABED)

Abbas recently warned he would cut salaries, aid and subsidies to Gaza to force Hamas to cede ground. Last week, his West Bank-based government announced it would stop paying for electricity Israel sends to power-starved Gaza.

Hamas responded that it would not bow to pressure from Abbas.

Gaza residents have been enduring worsening power cuts and currently live with rolling blackouts — six hours on, 12 hours off — that have further crippled an economy devastated by conflict.

Last Wednesday, a Palestinian Authority official further warned that the PA government will stop paying for electricity in the Gaza Strip and will “dry up” the flow of funds to Hamas.

Hussein al-Sheikh, head of the PA’s Civil Affairs Department, said Hamas profits from collecting electricity payments from Gaza residents.

“We are not going to continue financing the Hamas coup in Gaza,” he told the Voice of Palestine radio station.

Hamas accused the Abbas government of irresponsible behavior and warned that the announced cuts would be disastrous for Gaza’s two million residents.

Israel supplies electricity from 10 power lines that cover about 30 percent of Gaza’s needs and it deducts the money from the taxes and customs it collects on behalf of the Abbas government. Egypt provides some electricity, but supplies are less reliable. Gaza’s sole functioning power station stopped functioning last month after running out of fuel amid the Fatah-Hamas spat over paying the bill.


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