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Practical arrangements for Abbas visit to Gaza

March 18, 2011 1:34 P.M. (Updated: March 19, 2011 8:57 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday instructed Civil Affairs chairman Hussein Al-Sheikh to make logistical arrangements for his visit to Gaza as quickly as possible.

Abbas also asked Gaza premier Ismail Haniyeh to make arrangements to receive him at Erez border crossing in the coming days.

The president said Wednesday that he was ready to hold unity talks with Hamas in the Gaza Strip in the midst of massive youth protests across the West Bank and Gaza demanding an end to the division.

Haniyeh called for emergency talks with Fatah as security forces violently cracked down on protests in the Gaza Strip. Hamas welcomed Abbas' acceptance of the invitation.

A group of independent leaders in Gaza said Thursday that preparations were already underway to receive the president.

Coalition leader Yasser Al-Wadieh praised Abbas and Haniyeh for their "courageous initiative."

UN supports initiative; Netanyahu slams efforts

UN envoy Robert Serry threw his support behind the renewed reconciliation efforts, saying that unity was "overdue and vital for Palestinian legitimate aspirations."

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the unity efforts.

In a CNN interview broadcast Thursday, Netanyahu compared Hamas to Al-Qeada and said Palestinian reconciliation would be the end pf the peace process.

Sources in Netanyahu's office told the Israeli daily Haaretz that the prime minister would appeal to US and European leaders to thwart reconciliation efforts.

The Israeli government officials did not say whether Israel would respond to Palestinian unity with sanctions or by ceasing security cooperation with the PA. They told Haaretz that Netanyahu's efforts would focus on diplomacy for now.

The rivalry between Hamas and Fatah dates back to the early 1990s, and led to a national split in 2007 when the Islamist movement kicked their secular rivals out of Gaza after days of bloody street battles.

Since then, Abbas has not set foot in Gaza, which has been effectively cut off from the West Bank and the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority which controls it.

The division has badly damaged the Palestinian national movement to end Israel's occupation.

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