RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has not softened his position on reconciliation with Hamas and dialogue still depends on the Islamists ceding the Gaza Strip, his aides said on Thursday.
Abbas called on Wednesday for reconciliation talks with Hamas leaders without explicitly repeating previous demands they first give up the Gaza Strip, fuelling speculation the two sides could be ready to repair ties.
But aide Saeb Erekat said the comments, made a year after Hamas routed Abbas’s Fatah faction to seize Gaza, did not signal a new stance. He noted Abbas called for the implementation of a Yemeni initiative that says Hamas must cede the territory.
“President Abbas’ position has not changed,” Erekat said. “It is wrong to say that Abbas no longer calls for ending Hamas’ coup to end the divisions.”
Hamas says it is ready to resume dialogue but without preconditions, a position it reiterated in response to Abbas’s speech on Wednesday.
Abbas is pursuing U.S.-backed peace talks with Israel which has warned it could review its ties with Abbas if he were to mend relations with Hamas.
Abbas called in his speech for “national and comprehensive dialogue” and said rapprochement could prompt him to bring forward presidential and parliamentary elections.
Former Palestinian minister Hassan Asfour said in an article on his own website that Abbas was opening the door for talks with Hamas by adopting new language and dropping a requirement for “political conditions”.
But Jamal Zakout, senior aide to Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, said Abbas still believed dialogue was contingent on Hamas withdrawing from Gaza.
Yemen tried to broker a reconciliation deal between Fatah and Hamas in March but efforts broke down after disagreement over whether Hamas should cede control of Gaza before formal talks could start.
Arab ministers meeting at the Arab League have said Hamas must cede control of Gaza and have backed the Yemeni proposal. Erekat said Abbas would travel to Arab states to ask them to help implement that proposal. Hamas has said it is open to Arab mediation to end the dispute.
Israel and the Palestinians launched U.S.-backed peace talks in November with the goal of reaching a deal by the end of the year. Negotiations have been marred by disputes over Jewish settlement building, violence in Gaza and a corruption scandal surrounding Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.