Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi plans to meet the leaders of Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah on Wednesday in a renewed effort to help them patch up their five-year-old feud, Palestinian and Egyptian officials said.
The officials said Morsi would meet individually with President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah and Khaled Meshaal of Hamas to discuss a stalled reconciliation deal the two agreed to in Cairo last year.
Egyptian mediators had hoped to coax them into the same room, but a Palestinian source told Reuters the two will meet later in the evening, without the Egyptian president.
Abbas is reluctant to any format which would imply giving the Hamas leader a status equivalent to his own.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri downplayed the talks in Cairo, describing them as “exploratory.”
“Egyptian officials aim to explore where things stand and look into the best ways to activate reconciliation efforts,” he told Reuters.
On Tuesday, a Hamas court sentenced a senior Fatah armed activist, Zaki al-Sakani, to 15 years in prison for possession of arms, according to Hamas security sources. A Fatah official described the verdict as a blow to reconciliation.
Last year’s Egyptian-drafted agreement called on both sides to form a unity government that would oversee an election and restructure the Abbas-led Palestine Liberation Organization to include Hamas and the less important Islamic Jihad group.
Abbas says Hamas is obstructing election registration in Gaza, while Meshaal says the pact needs to be implemented as a whole, with Hamas prisoners in Fatah jails released.
A senior Hamas official in Gaza accused Abbas of dragging his feet on reconciliation and slowing its pace because he was still hoping for a renewal of stalled peace talks with Israel.
As the Palestinians and Egyptians met in Cairo, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu pledged not to concede any more land, The Jerusalem Post reported.
“We see the dangers clearly,” Netanyahu said. “Today Mahmoud Abbas is in Cairo together with the head of Hamas. They are looking into a possible unity deal between Fatah and the terrorists who have been trying to annihilate the state of Israel, and who have fired rockets at our cities.”
“We know that any territory we evacuate will be seized by Hamas and Iran, and we will not let that happen,” he added.