GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Senior delegations from rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas met Thursday in Gaza City in the most high-ranking gathering to convene since a new round of reconciliation talks began in Qatar earlier this year.
The Fatah delegation, comprising members of the movement's central committee, Zakariya al-Agha, Ibrahim Abu al-Naja, Faisal Abu Shalha, and Fatah spokesperson Fayiz Abu Aita, met with Hamas deputy head Ismail Haniyeh, and senior Hamas officials Imad al-Alami, Khalil al-Hayya, Sami Abu Zuhri, and Taher al-Nunu.
The two factions discussed the latest round of reconciliation talks that began earlier this year in the Qatari capital Doha and stressed the importance of building on the previous talks to both end Palestinian division and enact past reconciliation agreements.
Fatah spokesperson Abu Aita told Ma'an the meeting was positive and the two factions would maintain close contact in coming days, particularly ahead of talks between the Egyptian leadership and Hamas in Cairo.
Haniyeh told the Fatah delegation that Hamas was working to restore relations with Egypt, which deteriorated sharply in 2013 after Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi -- a close ally of Hamas -- was thrown out of office.
Morsi's successor, President Abed al-Fattah al-Sisi, was far less amenable to Gaza's de facto leaders, accusing the Hamas movement of supporting anti-regime militia in the northern Sinai. Sisi subsequently tightened a military blockade on Gaza's southern border.
Haniyeh said Hamas hoped to use the Cairo talks to underline its policy not to interfere in Egyptian internal affairs, as well as its aim to control the Gazan border more securely and to prevent militia from launching attacks on Egypt from inside Gaza.
Senior Fatah official Zakariya al-Agha said Fatah welcomed any improvement in relations between Hamas and Egypt.
The latest round of reconciliation talks between Fatah and Hamas began in Doha in January, and there has been close contact between the two factions since then.
The relationship between Hamas and Fatah deteriorated sharply after a national unity government consisting of independent technocrats all but collapsed in June last year, one year after it was first formed.
The two Palestinian parties have been pitched against one another since Hamas won legislative elections in 2006 and subsequently fought its way to power in the Gaza Strip.
Palestinian Authority officials have criticized Hamas for creating a shadow government in the Gaza Strip and blocking efforts to reach political unity.
Hamas has in turn accused the PA of executing a plan to "eradicate" it from the West Bank, saying that hundreds of its members have been arrested by PA security forces.
Earlier this year, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov welcomed the latest bid to end Palestinian division, expressing hope it would lead to a national unity government that would conduct "long-overdue" elections.
"The Palestinian people, particularly in Gaza, have suffered enough," he said. "They deserve to see the West Bank and Gaza reunited under a single, democratic and legitimate Palestinian authority."