Representatives of rival Palestinian parties Hamas and Fatah met in Damascus late on Friday to discuss efforts toward reconciliation, a Hamas official said in the Syrian capital, as Egypt released a top Hamas official after holding him for 10 days.
Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmad will meet with Hamas political supremo Khaled Meshaal, who lives in exile in Syria, Hamas political official Ezzat al-Rushuq said earlier in the day.
The talks will be the fruit of efforts by Meshaal after he met in Saudi Arabia with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who has been instrumental in past efforts by Cairo to end the dispute between the two parties.
In the last general election in 2006, Hamas unexpectedly defeated the secular Fatah, headed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Tensions between the two came to a head the following year when Hamas forces in the Gaza Strip routed those loyal to Abbas's Palestinian Authority, confining the latter's authority to the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Egypt has made several attempts at reconciliation, but the last round of talks ended in October 2009 when Hamas refused to sign an Egyptian document after it was inked by Fatah.
Under the terms of that document, legislative and presidential elections were to have been held in mid-2010.
Relations between the two parties have become more complicated recently after the Islamist Hamas roundly condemned Abbas for agreeing to resume direct peace talks with Israel, and promised to continue its armed struggle against the Jewish state, whose existence it does not recognize.
A poll by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center published on Thursday found that 43.8 percent of Palestinians would have voted for Fatah if local elections had been held this year, compared to 13.5 percent who would have voted for Hamas.
However, 26.4 percent said they would not have voted at all.
Hamas official freed
Egypt. Meanwhile, freed a top Hamas security official after holding him for 10 days on what Cairo media described as allegations of involvement in smuggling to the Gaza Strip and the killing of an Egyptian border guard.
Hamas said Mohammed Dababesh had returned to the Palestinian territory.
"The release came as a result of contacts between the Hamas leadership and Egypt. It was also proof that the reported allegations were false and incorrect," said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri.
Dababesh, a senior member of Hamas's internal security service, was detained on Sept. 13 upon landing in Cairo airport from Saudi Arabia. Egyptian authorities have not commented on the case, which put new strain on their ties with Hamas.
Abu Zuhri said at least 40 members of Hamas and other Palestinian factions remained in Egyptian custody, and called for them to be freed too.
"We hope that the (Dababesh) release will be the first step toward righting relations between Hamas and the Egyptian leadership and bringing an end to detention of Palestinians in their jails," he said.