CAIRO (AP) – Palestinian factions met in Egypt on Sunday to discuss reconciliation efforts as violence in the occupied West Bank rose between Israel and Palestinian militants.
The main groups, Hamas and Fatah, have been divided since 2007 and repeated attempts at reconciliation have failed, so expectations for the one-day meeting were low.
The participants in the closed meeting gave no indication of what was discussed. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who opened the session in the Egyptian Mediterranean city of el-Alamein, said at its conclusion only that the meeting was a “first and significant step” in efforts to end the long-running division.
It came in the middle violent violence in the West Bank, where Abbas and his Fatah group are based and exercise limited autonomy. Israel has staged near-nightly raids in Palestinian areas of the territory in what it says is an effort to stamp out militancy, particularly in areas where Abbas’ security forces have less of a foothold.
These raids have led to some of the worst fighting in nearly two decades in the West Bank. The Palestinians also say the Israeli raids are undermining their own security forces and weakening their leadership.
The meeting in Egypt was chaired by Abbas, giving the aging and long-serving Palestinian leader a chance to portray an image of control and statesmanship to both Palestinians and the international community at a time when he is deeply unpopular at home and his room for maneuver is limited by the Israeli attacks.
The meeting was attended by other Palestinian leaders, including Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas, the militant group that rules the Gaza Strip. Fatah and Hamas have been rivals since Hamas violently routed forces loyal to Abbas in Gaza in 2007, taking over the impoverished coastal enclave. Israel and Egypt have imposed a blockade of the territory.
For Hamas, attending the meeting was an opportunity to show Gazans that they are making an effort to mend the rift, even if nothing changes as a result.
Another key group that plays a central role in the fight against Israel, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, boycotted the assembly to protest the Palestinian Authority’s detentions of its members, said the group’s leader, Ziyad al-Nakhala.
For years, Egypt has acted as a mediator in trying to end the conflict between Palestinian factions. It also helped the broker’s truce several rounds fighting between Israel and Hamas.