x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Hamas backs UN statehood bid

Hamas's support for Fatah-led Palestinian Authority's UN push shows more flexibility since end of eight-day war with Israel.

RAMALLAH // Hamas's leader in exile has supported a bid this week by his Palestinian rivals to become a non-member observer state in the United Nations.

Khaled Meshaal yesterday gave his backing in a call to Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, in the West Bank.

Mr Abbas also heads the Palestine Liberation Organisation, which is expected to formally submit the request to the UN General Assembly on Thursday.

Support from Mr Meshaal, who lives in Qatar, could signal Hamas, which controls the enclave of Gaza, is more ready to compromise after an eight-day war with Israel that ended last Wednesday with a ceasefire agreement.

The fighting boosted the Islamist group's popularity, which had suffered since it upheld a ceasefire with Israel after its war on Gaza in 2008 to 2009.

Hamas on Friday announced an amnesty to prisoners from its feud with Fatah, the faction that controls the PLO and PA on the West Bank. The PA responded with a similar gesture for jailed Hamas members.

A landmark reconciliation accord between the rivals in May last year failed to gain much traction despite repeated attempts to heal a rift that erupted into a brief civil war five years ago, when Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip from forces led by Mr Abbas.

But while Mr Meshaal has become more pragmatic after last week's fighting, others have not.

His deputy, Moussa Abu Marzouk, struck a hard line in Cairo on Saturday, telling Associated Press that surrendering arms should not be a compromise in ceasefire negotiations.

"There is no way to relinquish weapons," Mr Abu Marzouk said.

Hamas has begun to gain momentum from the Arab Spring uprisings, increasingly falling under the sway of Egypt's Islamist-led government, and Qatar and Turkey - all of which offered public support in its war with Israel.

It parted ways last year with the Syrian regime, Iran and the Lebanese Shiite Hizbollah movement.

Although welcoming the UN bid, some of the group's officials have opposed the peace effort's primary goal: a Palestinian state side-by-side Israel.

That would entail at least a tacit recognition of Israel, which Mr Meshaal has suggested on a number of occasions.

Hamas officially calls for Israel's destruction.

Another senior Hamas official, Izzat Al Rishq, yesterday "welcomed" the Palestinian UN bid but reaffirmed the group's official claims over both the occupied territories and Israel.

Mr Al Rishq said Palestinians must not "sacrifice or compromise any inch of Palestinian land from the [Mediterranean] sea to the [Jordan] river".

The Palestinian UN bid calls for recognition of a state comprising the territories occupied by Israel: the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, which is the desired capital.

hnaylor@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse and the Associated Press

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