Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh (Photo: AFP)
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has formally protested a decision by Egypt's prime minister to receive Hamas leader Ismail Haniya, a Palestinian official said on Wednesday
"The Palestinian leadership and president Abbas are conducting contacts with the Egyptian leadership over the meeting between Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandil and Hamas leader Ismail Haniya," Saleh Raafat told the official Voice of Palestine radio station.
Haniya, who serves as prime minister at the head of Hamas's government in the Gaza Strip, met with Qandil in Cairo on Monday evening.
Raafat, a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), said Abbas's Palestinian Authority was seeking "Egyptian clarification on the meeting, particularly as Haniya has no official status."
The West Bank and Gaza have been under divided Palestinian rule since 2007, when long-standing animosity between Abbas's Fatah movement and Hamas boiled over into violence some 18 months after the Islamist group won a surprise electoral victory.
Hamas seized control of Gaza, and Fatah retreated to the West Bank, with each setting up rival administrations in the two territories, with Haniya heading the Gaza government, and Salam Fayyad holding the same post in the West Bank.
There have been no elections since 2006, and Abbas has remained in the office of president despite the official expiry of his term in 2009.
Raafat said Abbas had personally sent a letter to Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi on Tuesday, through Egypt's ambassador to the Palestinian territories.
The letter "included a protest and called officially on the Egyptian government not to deal with Haniya as prime minister," Raafat said.
He said Abbas would meet soon with Morsi, without saying when, to "discuss the matter."
In a statement, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri slammed Abbas and his government, accusing them of trying to impose a "political siege" on the movement under the banner of "unified Palestinian representation."
"Hamas stresses that Mahmoud Abbas does not have any right to talk about unified Palestinian representation, given that his legal term expired more than three years ago," Abu Zuhri said.
Hamas and Fatah signed a reconciliation deal last year in Egypt, but implementation of the agreement stalled over the formation of an interim government of independents.
Relations between the two sides have continued to deteriorate, despite successive rounds of meetings intended to advance the reconciliation deal.
On Wednesday, Hamas officials accused the Palestinian Authority of arresting more than 70 of its members in the space of 24 hours.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, Hamas sources said most of the arrests took place in the northern West Bank towns of Tulkarem, Qalqilya, Salfit and Nablus.
Fatah and Hamas regularly trade accusations over the arrests of their members in the West Bank and Gaza.