‘GAZA IS OPEN FOR ALL’ – Hamas’ Haniya welcomes Fatah’s Sha’ath

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Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya welcomed Fatah Central Committee member Nabil Sha’ath into his home in the Ash-Shati Refugee Camp on Thursday, along with delegations of Fatah and Hamas leaders in Gaza.

The visit to Haniya’s home came after Sha’ath spent the day touring Al-Azhar University and civil service institutions in the Strip.

At the university he met the board of trustees, staff and several members of the student senate, with whom he discussed the academic and administrative policies of the school.

The Fatah leader visited the home of the late Yasser Arafat and toured its gardens, paying a social visit to Arafat’s sister Khadija and learned about her social programmes and their goals.

Sha’ath arrived in Gaza on Wednesday afternoon via the Erez crossing.

It was his first visit to the area since the Hamas take-over in 2007 and marks the first time a Fatah member visited the Gaza Strip since the Sixth Fatah conference in August.

The trip came amidst controversy in Gaza, with Hamas officials threatening to require permits authorised by the government before Fatah leaders would be allowed to enter.

The governor of the central Gaza Strip Abdullah Abu Samhadana publicly objected to the rumoured ban, saying Palestinians should always have the right to return to their homeland no matter what political party they were from.

Officials said they expect Sha’ath would be in Gaza for several days and sources said he would hold meetings with members of all political groups including Hamas, probably around issues of reconciliation.

Representative of the independent figures in Gaza, Yasser Al-Wadiya, called the visit a great effort to begin the end of division between parties.

Al-Wadiya was one of the members of the welcoming committee who received Sha’ath, along with other independents: Muhammad Mady, Abdel Aziz Al-Shakaky and Muhammad Abu Ziyadeh.

Al-Wadiya called for investigations into why the unity talks had so far failed and urged sides to drop pretence and bring together all Palestinians in the interest of the national struggle.

Prime Minister Haniya said on Wednesday that reconciliation is a national necessity, speaking at a meeting with businessman Munib Al-Masri in Gaza City.

Welcoming Fatah leader Nabil Sha’ath, who arrived the same afternoon, Haniya asserted that Gaza ‘is open for all’.

‘We are talking about practical procedures and agreed-upon views concerning notes and procedures that would lead us to sign the Egyptian proposal, with which we would achieve a real conciliation to end division,’ Haniya said.

He called for ‘unifying the Palestinians to confront the challenges and risks which Jerusalem and the Palestinian cause are facing.’

The Hamas leader noted that, ‘these meetings are normal among one Palestinian people, during which they will discuss many issues that are of concern to the Palestinians – at the top of which is conciliation.’

For his part, Al-Masri said that, ‘we in the national coalition came to discuss many issues, at the top of which is national unity; hopefully our brothers in Hamas will soon sign the conciliation (document) in Cairo.’

Representatives of all Palestinian factions met in Gaza City late Wednesday at the headquarters of the independents, Al-Wadiya said Thursday morning.

The announcement came hours after Sha’ath’s in Gaza, where he was welcomed by several of the independent personalities.

Al-Wadiya said political leaders sat and discussed recent developments in the Palestinian arena: mainly internal reconciliation and efforts around achieving unity.

All partners agreed that the current status of talks must be overcome and unity achieved.

Factions also expressed the need to find solutions for the people of Gaza, living under a tight blockade, Al-Wadiya added.

He promised that representatives of the meeting would not stop working for solutions to both problems and said efforts would be focused on gaining wide support for solutions ahead of the next Arab Summit.

l Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is scheduled to meet Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo on Saturday, Palestinian ambassador to Egypt and the Arab League Barakat Al-Farra announced on Tuesday.

Al-Farra told reporters in Cairo that Abbas would arrive in Cairo Friday evening and hold a meeting with his Egyptian counterpart on Saturday.

Abbas and Mubarak will discuss US Special Envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell’s suggestions over the possible resumption of peace talks, he said.

The visit follows Abbas’ trip to Europe, where he spent time in Britain, Germany and Russia rallying support for the Palestinian stance on demands for a settlement freeze before the resumption of peace talks.

The trip was on the heels of a series of meetings with regional leaders by Mitchell, who failed to convince sides to resume talks.

Preceding Mitchell’s visit, Abbas made a tour of the Middle East to rally Arab support for a strong and unified stance on regional peace.

For the upcoming visit to Egypt, Al-Farra noted the country’s continued support of Palestinian efforts to unify and seek a just peace in the region.