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Fatah and Hamas to hold reconciliation talks

Fatah and Hamas will this week start talks aimed at improving inter-Palestinian relations
Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya (L) greets Hamas deputy Mussa Abu Marzuq in Gaza City on Monday (AFP)

A Fatah-led delegation commissioned by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is scheduled to discuss inter-Palestinian reconciliation with the Islamist Hamas movement on Tuesday, a Palestinian official has said. 

Ahead of the talks, Mussa Abu Marzuq, head of external affairs in Hamas's political office and currently based in Cairo, was seen entering the Hamas-ruled coastal strip through the Rafah frontier. Crossing on Monday, he immediately met with Gaza prime minister Ismail Haniya upon his arrival, according to Haniya's office. Marzuq is serving as the head of Hamas' delegation for reconciliation with Fatah. 

During Tuesday's talks, the sides plan to discuss "forming a national consensus government and holding elections," among other issues, said independent Palestinian MP Mustafa Barghouti, who is part of the Fatah delegation.

Barghouti told AFP that his fellow delegates include Fatah's Azzam al-Ahmad, Bassam al-Salhi of the socialist Palestine People's Party, businessman Munib al-Masri and Arab Palestinian Front leader Jamil Shehadeh. However, he reported on Monday that the delegates were facing difficult reaching Gaza due to Israel's insistence that the group obtain permission to enter the coastal enclave via the Israel-controlled Erez border crossing.

"The Israeli authorities have not yet given me permission to enter Gaza," Barghouti told Anadolu Agency.

Long-held 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 was never implemented.

Hamas's Gaza interior ministry said 10 Fatah members imprisoned for "breaches of public order" were freed on Monday "as a goodwill gesture to support national reconciliation efforts".

Hamas's fortunes have slipped since July 2013 when the Egyptian army deposed the movement's ally, president Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, although Abu Marzuq is still based in Cairo.

The Hamas leadership in exile left its Damascus headquarters last year, with its political chief Khaled Meshaal moving to Qatar.

Meshaal narrowly survived a 1997 Israeli assassination bid when Mossad agents injected him with poison on a street in Amman but were captured by Jordanian authorities.

He fell into a coma and a furious King Hussein demanded Israel hand over the antidote if it wanted the captured agents to be freed.

Meshaal himself rose to the top of Hamas after the Israeli assassination of its spiritual leader and co-founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in Gaza in March 2004, and the killing of his immediate successor Abdel Aziz Rantissi a month later.

Israeli officials have repeatedly warned that none of Hamas's leaders, including Haniya in Gaza, are immune from potential attack.