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Arab MPs visit Gaza in bid to break Hamas-Fatah stalemate

Feb. 16, 2010 4:24 P.M. (Updated: Feb. 18, 2010 1:46 P.M.)
Gaza – Ma’an – A delegation of Arab lawmakers arrived in Gaza via Egypt on Monday in a bid to break an impasse in Palestinian unity efforts.

“We came to represent the Arab parliaments and the Arab nation. We came as 22 deputies who represent the Arab nation from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf as a united nation,” the group said in a declaration upon arriving via the Egyptian-controlled Rafah crossing point.

“We want the Palestinian people to be united, as no party ever defeated its enemy when it was divided,” they added. “We ask you to unite in order to achieve the nation’s aim of establishing an independent Palestinian state.”

The delegation from the Arab Parliamentary Union included members from Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Morocco, Algeria, Qatar, Bahrain, Lebanon, Sudan, Kuwait, and Oman.

Ahmad Bahar, a Hamas leader and the deputy speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), headed an official delegation in welcoming the lawmakers to Gaza.

Salim Ben Ali Al-Kabi, an MP from Oman who is leading the delegation, told Ma’an in an interview that the group aims to end the Hamas-Fatah rift. He said there is "great optimism about Palestinian reconciliation," in particular citing hopes that Hamas will sign on to an Egyptian-backed power sharing initiative.

Jamal Al-Khudari, a prominent independent academic who leads the Popular Committee against the Israeli siege of Gaza, hailed the delegation as a show of "support for Palestinian steadfastness in the face of Israeli intransigence, the tightening of the blockade, the closure of the crossings, and the ban on the entry of construction materials and all requirements for a decent life."

Israel sealed its borders with Gaza in June 2007 following Hamas’ violent takeover of the coastal territory. The takeover caused President Mahmoud Abbas to dissolve a Hamas-Fatah unity government. The elected Hamas government maintains power only in Gaza, and is boycotted by most Western governments.

While in Gaza, the parliamentary delegation plans to hold talks with PLC members, representatives of Palestinian political factions, civil society groups, the parents of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel, bereaved families, and visit the war-damaged Islamic University, and several locations bombed by the Israeli military during last year’s war. The group will also visit the cabinet of de facto Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.

The Arab delegation arrives in Gaza amid slight signs of a thaw in the three-year-old Hamas-Fatah struggle.

On Sunday, 13 Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Fatah, held a meeting in Gaza to underline their commitment to ending infighting. Earlier in February, senior Fatah leader Nabil Sha’ath made a rare visit to Gaza, where he met with Haniyeh and other Hamas officials.
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