Hamas and Fatah continue to trade sharp words over how and when to end the Gaza blockade.
Abbas insists any easing of the blockade must be co-ordinated through the PA [Reuters]
The Israeli daily Haaretz reported on Sunday that Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, told Barack Obama, the US president, that he was opposed to lifting the naval blockade of Gaza.
Abbas' office quickly denied the report, which was thinly sourced - attributed to unnamed "European diplomats".
Abbas followed up two days later, though, with an interview with the Palestinian newspaper Al-Ayyam, in which he said any steps to ease the blockade of Gaza should be co-ordinated through the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.
"Our government is the legitimate representative of the Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip," Abbas said. "Therefore, any steps or measures from the Israeli side or the international community must come via this government."
Abbas proposed returning to a 2005 agreement, under which the PA's Presidential Guard would take responsibility for security at the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza. That agreement lasted until 2007, when Hamas took over Gaza and expelled Fatah, and the Egyptian government sealed the Rafah crossing.
The Palestinian president met Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, on Tuesday and issued a statement after the meeting urging Hamas to sign a reconciliation deal.
'Abbas is not present in Gaza'
But Hamas rejected Abbas' insistence that efforts to ease the blockade be coordinated through Ramallah. The Islamic group, which controls the Gaza Strip, reminded reporters that it won Palestinian elections in 2005, and that the PA government no longer has a presence in Gaza.
"Abbas is not present in Gaza," said Sami Abu Zahri, a spokesman for Hamas. "So any international intervention, particularly by the Europeans, needs to be orchestrated through the government in Gaza."
Fawzi Barhoum, another spokesman for Hamas, called the Abbas government illegitimate.
Haniya, the head of the Hamas government, wants the blockade ended immediately [AFP]
The Israeli government is reportedly considering Abbas' plan to deploy PA inspectors, along with European Union observers, at Rafah. But that plan will be difficult to implement unless Hamas and Fatah reach a reconciliation deal, an outcome that seems unlikely.
Hamas officials in Gaza have refused to receive a "reconciliation delegation" organised by Abbas. The delegation is now expected to travel to Syria later this month to meet with Hamas officials living in Damascus.
And there’s little confidence in the West Bank and Gaza that the reconciliation talks will move forward: A new poll of the Palestinian public found that just 16 per cent think reconciliation "will be achieved soon".
Fifty-five per cent think the talks will remain stalled for "a long time".