RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party on Tuesday signed Egypt’s plan for separate signings of a reconciliation deal with Hamas after the Islamist group balked at attending a unity ceremony.
Hamas said it still had not decided whether to agree to the proposal put forward by Egyptian mediators, and another potential obstacle to a deal emerged when Hamas accused Egypt of torturing to death the brother of a spokesman for the group.
A Fatah source said the faction had signed the Egyptian paper — although he did not say who had actually put pen to paper — and added that a delegation headed by senior Fatah official Azzam Al-Ahmed would deliver it in Cairo on Wednesday.
Egypt had invited Fatah and Hamas, which won parliamentary elections in 2006 and violently wrested control of the Gaza Strip from its Western-backed rival in 2007, to attend a ceremony on October 24-26 in Cairo, where they were expected to sign a reconciliation pact.
But Hamas asked last week for a postponement, citing Abbas’s agreement under U.S. pressure to back the deferral by the U.N. Human Rights Council of a vote on a report that accused Israel of war crimes during Israel’s December-January Gaza offensive.
The report, by South African jurist Richard Goldstone, also said Hamas militants, who carried out cross-border rocket attacks on communities in Israel, had committed war crimes.
Mohammed Dahlan, a senior Fatah leader, said he and other party officials would urge Abbas to hold Palestinian parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for January 25 unilaterally if Hamas failed to agree to the pact.
In a report sourced to an unidentified official in the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama, Israel’s Haaretz daily said U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell told Egypt that Washington did not support the proposed unity deal.
Mitchell, according to the newspaper, said certain aspects of the agreement would undermine U.S. efforts to relaunch negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. The U.S. embassy in Israel had no comment.
Hamas opposes peace talks with Israel and has rejected Western calls to renounce violence, recognize Israel and accept previous interim Israeli-Palestinian peace deals.
Under the proposed unity deal, a committee of Palestinian factions would act as a liaison between the Fatah-dominated government in the West Bank and Hamas authorities in the Gaza Strip and a joint police force would be formed.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said his movement had not finalized its position.
It accused Egypt of torturing to death the brother of another spokesman arrested last April.
“It is strange that Egypt, which is trying to achieve reconciliation, has allowed such an incident to take place inside its prisons,” Sami Abu Zuhri, the Hamas spokesman whose brother, Youssef Abu Zuhri, 38, died on Monday, said in Gaza.
Egyptian security officials denied the charge.
In further comments that could stir Hamas anger, Abbas told an audience in the West Bank town of Jenin “that Hamas leaders escaped Gaza to Sinai in ambulances” to flee Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip last January.
Hamas official Abdel-Latif al-Qanoua called Abbas’s allegations baseless. “Hamas leaders ran the battle from trenches and offered their leaders and members as martyrs,” Qanoua said.
Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Ramallah and Dan Williams in Jerusalem, Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan and Jeffrey Heller, Editing by Richard Williams