CAIRO (AP) — Palestinian factions kicked off a meeting Sunday in Egypt to discuss reconciliation efforts as violence in the occupied West Bank surged between Israel and Palestinian militants.
The main groups, Hamas and Fatah, have been split since 2007. With repeated reconciliation attempts having failed, expectations for the one-day meeting are low. According to the official Palestinian news agency Wafa, the gathering in the Egyptian city of el-Alamein on the Mediterranean Sea was discussing “ways to restore national unity and end the division.”
The meeting comes amid soaring violence in the West Bank, where Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah group are based and exert limited self-rule. Israel has been staging near-nightly raids in Palestinian areas of the territory in what it says is an attempt to stamp out militancy, especially in areas where Abbas’ security forces have less of a foothold.
Those raids have led to some of the worst fighting in nearly two decades in the West Bank. Palestinians also say the Israeli raids undermine their own security forces and weaken their leadership.
The meeting in Egypt was chaired and initiated by Abbas, presents the aging and longtime Palestinian leader with a chance to portray an image of control and statesmanship to both Palestinians and the international community at a time when he is deeply unpopular at home and his room for maneuver is constrained by the Israeli incursions.
The meeting was attended by other Palestinian leaders including Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas. the militant group which rules the Gaza Strip. Fatah and Hamas have been rivals since Hamas violently routed forces loyal to Abbas in Gaza in 2007, taking over the impoverished coastal enclave. Israel and Egypt have imposed a blockade on the territory.
For Hamas, joining the meeting is an opportunity to show Gazans that it is making an effort to mend the rift, even if nothing changes as a result.
Another key group playing a central role in the fighting with Israel, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, boycotted the gathering to protest the detentions by the Palestinian Authority of its members, according to the group’s leader, Ziyad al-Nakhala.
Egypt has for years acted as a mediator to try to end the infighting between Palestinian factions. It also helped broker truces in multiple rounds of fighting between Israel and Hamas.