Fatah and Hamas on Sunday accused each other of using an aborted official Fatah visit to the Gaza Strip as a pretext to scupper the fragile reconciliation deal between the parties.
As officials announced that committees set up to implement the May 2011 deal were making progress, both parties released statements saying their rival wanted to undermine the agreement through the row.
Four Fatah officials tried to enter the Gaza Strip on Friday for reconciliation talks, but said they were refused entry by Hamas border guards and left after waiting 45 minutes. Hamas said the delegation refused to wait more than 10 minutes for border guards to call their supervisors to arrange the group’s entry.
The Gaza interior ministry accused Fatah delegate Sakher Bseso of “cursing God” and said “certain officials” had started legal proceedings against him for blasphemy. Bseso denies the accusation.
On Sunday, the Fatah central committee said the accusation was “suspicious” and Hamas’ threat against Bseso “aimed first and foremost to close the door to reconciliation and to prevent (Fatah officials’) access to the Gaza Strip to continue the (unity) dialogue.”
Later, Hamas released a statement accusing Fatah of escalating the situation, and trying to “escape” the reconciliation deal.
It added: “If there is a previous decision by Fatah to return to the negotiations with Israel and withdraw from the reconciliation, then it would be its own matter and it should hold a full responsibility for its decision in front of the Palestinian people, the Egyptian mediators and the whole Arab nation, who have been optimistic about the reconciliation.”
Fatah officials under the umbrella Palestinian Liberation Organization are participating in talks with Israeli envoys in the Jordanian capital as part of an international Quartet effort to revitalize stalled negotiations.
Hamas re-stated its long time opposition to negotiations with Israel after the first meeting last week, with senior Hamas official in Gaza Ismail Radwan saying the talks could threaten the unity agreement.
However Hamas chief-in-exile Khalid Mashaal told reporters in Cairo on Friday that despite the faction’s rejection of talks with Israel, the meetings will “not affect our path towards reconciliation.”
Back to basics
With the parties’ differing version of events on the Gaza border on Friday, the parties plowed back into the issue of Hamas’ jurisdiction over the coastal enclave.
Fatah said it was determined to go to Gaza without any permission, because Gaza does not belong to any faction. The Gaza Strip “is not a farm owned by anyone who takes it over by force of arms,” it said.
Meanwhile, Hamas said government procedures at the crossings are legal matters which no one can avoid.
Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, a year after winning national elections. Its position was rejected by the international community and various attempts at establishing a unity government failed.
Accusing Fatah of plotting an armed coup, the faction expelled Fatah members after fighting that killed hundreds of Palestinians. Fatah has dominated the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, while Hamas has ruled the Gaza government ever since.
The reconciliation deal aimed to end four years of divided government and bitter infighting that saw a crackdown on media, associations and political activists believed to be affiliated to the rival faction.
On Sunday, a cross-party public freedoms committee said key tenets of the reconciliation deal would be implemented in one week, with political detainees freed, passports issued to all citizens and banned newspapers back in circulation.
But the parties’ reactions to the Gaza border row later in the day threatened to throw the process back into disarray, eight months after squabbles and political diversions had kept its promise of elections and a new government at bay.
Fatah said Hamas’ explanation that the border guard hold-up was a technical mistake “did not convince anyone” and called for an apology.
“If there is anyone to apologize, it should be the person who cursed God and his apology should not be directed at Hamas but to the whole Islamic nation,” Hamas countered.