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Rare Abbas call to Hamas chief boosts reconciliation

Abbas spoke with Haniyah by phone from New York and “expressed his satisfaction with the reconciliation”

Ramallah: Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Esmail Haniyah spoke Monday for the first time in nearly a year, adding impetus to a surprise reconciliation between their factions locked in bitter dispute for 10 years.

Abbas spoke with Haniyah by phone from New York and “expressed his satisfaction with the prevailing atmosphere of reconciliation”, according to a statement on the official Palestinian news agency Wafa.

A Hamas statement quoted Haniyah as saying that Hamas was “determined to move ahead with steps to end the division, will all willingness and determination, with the goal of uniting our Palestinian people”.

A Hamas spokesman told AFP that the two had not spoken since meeting in Qatar in October 2016.

Hamas said Sunday it had agreed to demands by Abbas’s Fatah party to dissolve what is seen as a rival administration in Gaza, while saying it was ready for elections and negotiations towards forming a unity government.

As a first step towards implementing a larger agreement, Abbas’s Palestinian Authority (PA) located in the Israeli-occupied West Bank has international recognition, but it lost control of the Gaza Strip when the Islamist movement Hamas seized the territory in a near civil war in 2007.

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The head of the Arab League on Monday hailed the steps taken by Hamas and called for full reconciliation.

Ahmad Abu Al Ghait “welcomes the important positive developments” regarding “ending the division” between the Palestinian factions, the Cairo-based organisation’s spokesman Mahmoud Afifi said in a statement.

In recent months Abbas has sought to squeeze Hamas by reducing power supply to the strip, with the two million residents receiving only three or four hours of mains electricity per day as a result.

He has also reduced the salaries of some employees in Gaza, while the number of Gazans receiving PA permits to travel for medical care has declined.

Hamas on Monday called for the measures to be reversed after dissolving the so-called administrative committee, seen as a rival government and created in March.

In a statement they called on Abbas to “take urgent steps to cancel all his punitive decisions and measures against our people in the Strip.”

Shaath said Abbas wanted to reverse the punitive measures, but he did not give a timetable.

“When the president supported these economic measures (against Gaza) he said they will stop immediately once the self-rule governance of Hamas ends and the consensus government takes place. He didn’t put any other conditions whatsoever.”

Abbas is due to address world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Wednesday, after meeting with US President Donald Trump.