Re-elected Hamas chief says will work for unity

AFP , Thursday 4 Apr 2013

Khalid Meshaal vows to work for reconciliation with Palestinian Authority but reaffirms pledge not to abandon "fixed positions"

Meshaal and Abbas
Meshaal and Abbas

The newly re-elected chief of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, pledged on Thursday to work to end a rift with his West Bank rival, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas.

Meshaal, speaking at a pro-Palestinian conference in Cairo, "affirmed his movement's solicitude for ending the division with its negative effects," the Palestinian Safa news agency quoted him as saying.

But he hinted that Hamas would not renounce its opposition to Israel's existence nor its use of violence, conditions for Israel and the United States to accept it as a partner in a Palestinian government.

"The (Israeli) occupation exploits the division and placed hurdles before a reconciliation (with Abbas's Fatah party)," he said. Hamas would work for unity "but that does not mean abandoning fixed positions."

Meshaal's reelection was confirmed on Tuesday, drawing a cautious welcome from his Fatah rivals.

He was chosen by an vote within the movement considered a terrorist group by the United States, Europe and Israel.

Bitter infighting between the rival movements in 2007 escalated into bloody street battles in Gaza, which culminated in Hamas expelling Fatah loyalists and seizing control of the territory.

Although the two factions signed a unity deal in April 2011, the agreement has largely stalled.

Hamas has since been abandoned its headquarters in Damascus, which was seen as urging a hard line in reconciliation talks with Fatah, and set up its political base in Qatar and Egypt.

Meshaal repeated his opposition to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in his two-year crackdown on an uprising that has killed an estimated 70,000 people.

"We don't interfere in internal affairs, either in Syria or Egypt or anywhere else. That's our policy. But we stand with the people, with their demands for reform and democracy," he said.

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