Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi
plans to meet the leaders of Palestinian factions Hamas
on Wednesday in a renewed effort to help them heal their five-year-old feud, Palestinian and Egyptian officials said.
But there was no confirmation President Mahmoud Abbas
of the secular Fatah group and Khaled Mashaal of
the Islamist Hamas movement would meet face to face, and a unity pact reached in Cairo last year has yet to be implemented.
The officials said Morsi would meet separately with Abbas and Mashaal to discuss the stalled reconciliation deal, and Egyptian mediators hoped to coax them into the same room.
Abbas is reluctant to any format which would imply giving the Hamas leader a status equivalent to his own.
Abbas with Mashaal in 2011 (Photo: Reuters)
Morsi, grappling with political and economic difficulties at home, helped broker a ceasefire deal
that ended a brief war in November between Israel
and Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.
Leaders of the two groups have been deadlocked over the unity agreement and have traded blame over continued arrests among members in the West Bank, where Abbas holds sway, and in Gaza, which Hamas wrested from Abbas's control in 2007.
On Tuesday, a Hamas court sentenced a senior Fatah armed activist, Zaki al-Sakani, to 15 years in prison for possession of arms, according to Hamas security sources. A Fatah official described the verdict as a blow to reconciliation.
The Palestinian rivals have drawn closer since Israel's Operation Pillar of Defense
in Gaza this past November, in which Hamas claimed victory, and a diplomatic win by Abbas the same month in which the United Nations voted to recognize Palestine as a non-member state.
Supporters of the two factions were allowed to hold anniversary rallies in Gaza and the West Bank for the first time since their split, though the celebrations produced no concrete signs of how reconciliation might be implemented.
Last year's Egyptian-drafted agreement called on both sides to form a unity government that would oversee an election and reform the Abbas-led Palestine Liberation Organisation to include Hamas and the less influential Islamic Jihad
Abbas says Hamas is obstructing election registration in Gaza, while Mashaal says the pact needs to be implemented as a whole, with Hamas prisoners in West Bank jails released.
A senior Hamas official in Gaza accused Abbas of dragging his feet on reconciliation and slowing its pace because he was still hoping for a renewal of stalled peace talks with Israel.
"Our information showed that President Abbas would head towards reviving negotiations with the occupation (Israel) when the election
in Israel is finished," Salah al-Bardaweel said in a statement.
Israel will hold its Knesset election on Jan. 22.
Hani Habib, a political analyst in Gaza, said the Cairo talks, like previous meetings, had little chance of success.
"The talks today were meant to show something regarding reconciliation is happening but there will be nothing new," he said. "Each side has been unable to twist the other's arm and therefore each is happy with the status quo.