Cairo hosts Hamas to break the ice with the Islamist movement

Ahmed Eleiba , Ahram Online , Sunday 13 Mar 2016

A Hamas delegation arrived to Cairo Saturday for talks amid accusations levelled by the Egyptian interior ministry of the group's involvement in the 2015 assassination of Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat

Sami Abu Zuhri
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri (Reuters)

Palestinian Islamist group Hamas began an official visit to Cairo Saturday with a meeting with Egyptian Intelligence Service officials upon arrival to a hotel in the capital, according to knowledgeable sources.

Aِِccording to sources, the General Intelligence Service, which manages the Palestinian-Israel conflict file, is seeking to break the ice with the group that faces accusations of involvement in the assassination of Egypt's Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat.

The Egyptian interior minister said last Sunday that leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood in Turkey and the group's Palestinian offshoot Hamas were behind the assassination of Barakat on 29 June 2015.

Egyptian Minister of Interior Magdy Abdel-Ghafar said that Turkish-based leaders of the Brotherhood masterminded the assassination, while Hamas "provided training for militants to execute it and also took part in planning it."

Hamas expressed dismay at Abdel-Ghafar's accusations, with spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri describing them as "untrue," saying the accusations are not in line with "efforts exerted to develop relations between Hamas and Cairo."

Hamas's international relations official, Osama Hamdan, said in a statement in parallel with the visit that Sunday meetings would discuss bilateral relations between the two sides, "especially as the visit takes place in conditions that Hamas didn't want to exist."

Discussions will include various issues related to the Gaza Strip as well as developments in the Palestinian cause — both those related to the current Palestinian uprising and the internal reconciliation path between Hamas and Fatah.

Hamas spokesman Abu Zuhri said in remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that the group's poliburo chief Khaled Meshal asked the director of the Egyptian General Intelligence Service, Major General Khaled Fawzi, in a telephone call to hold a bilateral meeting between the two sides.

Abu Zuhri affirmed Hamas's keenness to forge positive relations with Cairo and to open a new page in bilateral relations.

Egypt and Hamas have seen tense relations. The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood was ousted from power when former president Mohamed Morsi was overthrown in 2013.

The Egyptian government has accused Hamas of aiding Islamist militants in Egypt's North Sinai, which borders Gaza. Hamas denies the claim.

Despite the fact that the visit was scheduled before it was announced, Hamas officials doubted it would take place at the due time. Arab parties, including Saudi Arabia, reportedly intervened to help facilitate the coming together of the two sides on time.

Ahead of the arrival of the Hamas delegation, Cairo confirmed that it would not return to the previous course of fruitless negotiations with the group.

This was the message that was delivered by Egyptian intelligence officials to the delegation in a meeting that lasted for several hours at the Rafah Crossing on Saturday.

The Hamas delegation is headed by Mahmoud Al-Zahar, a member of the Hamas politburo.

The message was reaffirmed upon the arrival of the delegation in Cairo in meetings that lasted until early Sunday. A meeting between the delegation and Fawzi is expected later this day.

Al-Zahar denied in earlier remarks all accusations against the movement of involvement in the assassination of Barakat, saying the accusations are not "the opinion of all security services in Egypt," but are "limited to the interior ministry," referring to good ties with the Egyptian General Intelligence Service since the days of late intelligence chief Omar Suleiman.

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