Hamas leader's visit to Tunisia angers his Palestinian rivals
TUNIS - A visit by Gaza's Hamas leader has angered the official Palestinian representatives in Tunisia who say they were ignored during the talks with the new government, a Palestinian source said Saturday.
Ismail Haniya, prime minister in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, visited Tunis on Thursday to meet with the new moderate Islamist-led administration while he was on a tour of the region.
But that did not sit well with representatives of the Palestinian Authority led by president Mahmud Abbas.
"The Palestinians are furious. Neither the government nor the foreign ministry, nor the (Islamist) Ennahda party informed them of the dates and programme of Haniya's visit, as they should have," the Palestinian source said.
Another source told the Arabic language newspaper El Maghreb that the lack of communication could hamper reconciliation efforts going on between Hamas and Abbas's Fatah party.
Haniya was welcomed with much fanfare on his arrival in Tunis, where he was met by Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali and the head of Ennahda, Rached Ghannouchi.
Some Tunisian media also questioned the purpose of Haniya's visit, whether it was to talk with the government or the Islamist party.
Questioned, a government source said the Hamas leader was invited by Tunisia and by the Ennahda party.
Haniya confirmed Saturday there had been no contact between his team and official Palestinian representatives in Tunisia but brushed it off.
"There is no problem," he said at Sidi Bouzid in the centre of the country. "We Palestinians meet each other inside and outside Palestine."
But a Palestinian source said the Palestinian Authority officials in Tunisia were annoyed that the Hamas leader did not visit the Hamman-Chott cemetery south of Tunis, holding the graves of 68 people killed in an Israeli airstrike on PLO headquarters in October 1985.
Tunis was the headquarters of the exiled PLO under Yasser Arafat before the 1993 Oslo accords with Israel granted Palestinian autonomy in the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank.
Haniya's six-country tour marked his first travel abroad since Hamas, seen as terrorist group by Western powers, took power in Gaza in 2007. According to his office it was aimed at raising funds to rebuild Gaza City, devastated by an Israeli offensive three years ago.
But the Hamas takeover of Gaza politically divided the Palestinian territories, with Abbas's Fatah left largely ruling the West Bank and recognised internationally as the official Palestinian authority.
In April, following years of bitter rivalry, the two factions signed a reconciliation deal whose implementation has since stalled.
Last month, Abbas met Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal in Cairo and the two agreed on a process that could pave the way for the Islamist group to join a reformed Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and for long-delayed Palestinian elections.