Palestinian factions trade blame as unity talks postponed

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Ali Sawafta

CAIRO/RAMALLAH (Reuters) -Reconciliation talks between Hamas and Fatah due to be held in China this month have been delayed and no new date has been set, Palestinian officials said on Monday, underlining dim chances of Palestinian unity even as Israel presses its Gaza offensive.

After hosting a meeting of Palestinian factions in April, China said Fatah - which is led by President Mahmoud Abbas - and Hamas had expressed the will to seek reconciliation through unity talks in Beijing. Officials from Fatah and Hamas had previously said the follow-up meeting would be in mid-June.

But with the factions deeply split, analysts had held out little hope of the talks achieving a breakthrough towards a deal that could create a unified Palestinian administration for the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip, controlled by the militant Islamist movement Hamas since 2007.

Fatah and Hamas traded blame over the delay.

Senior Hamas official Basem Naim, who attended the previous meeting, told Reuters Fatah had requested an indefinite delay.

Fatah spokesperson Abdel Fattah Dawla said his movement had not rejected the invitation to meet but had held discussions with the Chinese ambassador about the proposed date in light of he what he described as escalating Israeli aggression and "the complexities of events".

An alternative date had been proposed, but Hamas had responded by refusing to take part, Dawla said.

A Hamas official denied this account, saying the movement had not rejected another meeting.

The Chinese foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment.

PRESERVING INFLUENCE

Israel has been waging war in Gaza since the Iran-backed Hamas launched its Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel, seeking to destroy the group in a campaign which has laid waste to much of the Gaza Strip.

Hamas has sought a deal with Fatah on a new technocratic administration for the West Bank and Gaza as part of a wider political deal, Reuters reported this month, underlining the group's aim of preserving influence once the war ends.

The United States and EU, which shunned Hamas as a terrorist group long before the Oct. 7 attack, oppose any role for the group in governing Gaza after the war.

Western states support the idea of post-war Gaza being run by a revamped Palestinian Authority (PA), the administration led by Abbas that has limited self-rule over patches of the West Bank.

The PA also ran Gaza until 2007, when Hamas drove Fatah from the enclave, a year after defeating Fatah in parliamentary elections - the last time Palestinians voted.

Hamas has long rejected Abbas' approach of seeking to negotiate the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital, deeming it a failure and advocating armed struggle.

Hamas' 1988 founding charter called for Israel's destruction. In 2017, Hamas said it agreed to a transitional Palestinian state within frontiers pre-dating the 1967 war, though it still opposed recognising Israel's right to exist.

Hamas has restated this position since the eruption of the Gaza war.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Cairo and Ali Sawafta in Ramallah, additional reporting by Laurie Chen in Beijing; Writing by Tom PerryEditing by Gareth Jones, Anil D'Silva and Sharon Singleton)