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Abbas: Hamas continues to legitimize division

May 5, 2017 4:21 P.M. (Updated: May 8, 2017 7:12 P.M.)
WASHINGTON (Ma'an) -- Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Thursday that he would not accept working with the Hamas movement so long as it “continues to legitimize division,” adding that he had decided to “rethink everything I do with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.”

Abbas’ comments came during his meeting with ambassadors of Arab countries to the US in Washington, and one day after the president had reportedly “reiterated his commitment to end the Palestinian division and to alleviate the suffering of the people in the Gaza Strip,” according to official Palestinian Authority (PA)-owned news agency Wafa.

Thursday’s meeting consisted of Abbas briefing ambassadors on his meeting with Trump, the cause of some 1,600 Palestinian prisoners on mass hunger strike in Israeli prisons, and national reconciliation between the Fatah movement, which leads the PA in the occupied West Bank, and Hamas, the de facto ruling party of the besieged Gaza Strip.

While Abbas did not mention any direct or specific criticisms of Hamas policy or actions, he accused the group of sowing division and said that he would be taking “unprecedented steps now that Hamas stopped reconciliation,” and that these unspecified steps would “be painful if Hamas does not take back what it did.”

Palestinian leadership has repeatedly failed to follow through on promises of reconciliations, as both movements have frequently blamed each other for numerous political failures. Tensions have only continued to escalate between the two factions in recent weeks.

Earlier this week, Hamas security forces in Gaza arrested several Fatah leaders from the northern Gaza Strip, while several others were summoned for interrogation and subsequently detained, allegedly in order to prevent the Fatah officials from taking place in a March planned on Wednesday in support of Abbas and hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners.

The Fatah march was organized just one day after Hamas suspended schools and government offices to encourage people to take part in rallies, which involved Palestinians from across the political spectrum, in the Gaza Strip to express opposition to Abbas and the decade-long Israeli siege of the small Palestinian territory.

In response to the detention campaign, Fatah's Central Committee released a statement warning that "the (Fatah) movement will protect its members and won't allow Hamas to harm the national battle of freedom and dignity which the Palestinian people are fighting and which is led by the hero prisoners."

The detentions were the latest in a series of political escalations, exacerbated by the ongoing electricity crisis in Gaza, PA-imposed cuts to the salaries of civil servants in Gaza, and the fact that the PA has decided to move forward with local elections in the West Bank, despite being boycotted by Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov released a statement earlier this month expressing his “deep concerns” over the “growing tensions” in Gaza.

“Gaza is an integral part of the future Palestinian state and no efforts should be spared to bring about real national reconciliation that ends the division. Leaders have a responsibility to avoid escalation and bridge the growing divide between Gaza and the West Bank that further fragments the Palestinian people,” his statement said.

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