Hamas frees Fatah men, urges rival to reciprocate
The Hamas government in the Gaza Strip freed seven imprisoned members of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction today, saying it was trying to promote reconciliation with its West Bank-based rival.
Hamas, which seized Gaza from Western-backed Fatah in 2007, made the unity gesture at a time when the Islamist movement is grappling with a rift with neighbouring Egypt's military-backed government that has damaged and isolated the enclave's economy.
Relatives of the seven released prisoners welcomed them with kisses outside a Gaza jail, where they had been serving terms of up to two years for what Hamas described as security offences. Fatah said they were jailed for political reasons.
Both Hamas and Fatah have been accused by human rights groups of carrying out wide-scale arrests of each other's members and abusing them while in detention. Hamas and Fatah both number their jailed members in the dozens and demand their freedom.
Islam Shahwan, spokesman for the Hamas-run Interior Ministry, called the release an effort "to reinforce national reconciliation" - a goal that has proved elusive.
On Monday, Hamas said hundreds of Fatah members, exiled from Gaza since a brief civil war in 2007, could return. Fatah, however, dismissed the move as superficial and called on Hamas to implement past accords on Palestinian unity.
RECONCILIATION AND RECIPROCATION
"We hope reconciliation can be achieved soon," one of the freed prisoners, Fatah member Saleh Abdel-Salam, told reporters. "Our enemy is one and we should devote our attention to our Palestinian cause."
Hamas urged Fatah to reciprocate for the prisoner release.
"The Hamas movement in the West Bank awaits positive decisions that will enable it to resume its public, social, trade union and political activities," Khaled al-Haj, a Hamas official in the territory, said in a statement.
Jamal Mheisen, a member of the Fatah Central Committee, called in turn for Hamas to implement the unity deal, saying anything short of that did not constitute progress toward ending political divisions.