The office of Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has issued a press statement harshly criticising a Thursday meeting in Cairo between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal at which the two men discussed inter-Palestinian reconciliation.
"This is not the behaviour of somebody seeking peace; Abu Mazen [Abbas] gave an embrace to the head of a terror organisation who only a month ago stated that Israeli should be wiped from the map," the Lebanese Daily Star website quoted Netanyahu as stating.
At their first meeting in almost one year, Abbas and Meshaal agreed on Thursday to revive a stalled reconciliation deal between the rival Palestinian factions. On their visits to Cairo, Abbas and Meshaal both held separate talks with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.
"Morsi promised to work towards lifting the Gaza blockade and helping Palestinians out of their financial crisis, lobbying donors and our Arab brothers," Fatah's lead negotiator Azzam Al-Ahmed told AFP.
Yousef Rizq, political advisor to Hamas PM in Gaza Ismail Haniya, said Abbas wanted the election committee to end its work creating a "consensus government" and move towards holding elections, so as to activate the 2011 Egyptian-brokered reconciliation deal.
The two Palestinian leaders also agreed to allow Hamas a degree of representation in the Palestine Liberation Organisation, which has historically been led by Fatah.
Long path to reconciliation
The two groups reached an Egyptian-sponsored unity agreement in April 2011, although the deal's main articles have not been applied so far.
In December, leaders of Hamas and Fatah called for the renewal of reconciliation attempts that have been stalled for more than one year.
In Gaza, Meshaal, in his first-ever trip to the coastal territory, said it was time for the bitter opponents to make good on the deal they signed in Cairo in 2011.
The deal had been intended to pave the way for presidential and legislative elections by May 2012, but disagreements over who would head up a transitional government snarled implementation of the agreement.
In early 2012, Meshaal and Abbas signed a new deal in Doha, under which the latter would head the interim government. But Hamas leaders in Gaza rejected the arrangement, accusing Meshaal of taking decisions unilaterally.
2012 Hamas-Israel ceasefire
On 21 November, Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced a ceasefire between Israel and the Gaza-based resistance movement at a press conference in Cairo.
Days earlier, Israel had launched a series of destructive attacks against buildings and media centres across the besieged coastal enclave, including Haniya's office, killing more than 162 Palestinians in a week of non-stop airstrikes.
Meanwhile, five Israelis died as a result of rockets fired by Hamas fighters into Israel.
Clinton, at the time, stated her agreement with Morsi, Netanyahu and Abbas on the need to give peace talks a chance, asserting that there was "no alternative" to reaching a viable solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
On 22 November, Abbas spoke with Haniya by telephone to congratulate him on his "victory," according to a statement issued by Hamas.
Hamas, in return, had expressed its support for Abbas' successful UN recognition bid to grant Palestine non-member observer status in the world body, approved by the General Assembly on 29 November. Meshaal had argued at the time that such a step would reinvigorate the stalled reconciliation process.
However, the United States, along with other Western states and Israel, continue to argue that Hamas must halt armed resistance activities and recognise Israel in order to be included in any future peace talks.