China to host Hamas, Fatah for Palestinian unity talks

By Thomson Reuters Apr 26, 2024 | 1:33 PM

By Laurie Chen and Nidal al-Mughrabi

BEIJING/CAIRO (Reuters) – China will host Palestinian unity talks between Islamist militant group Hamas and its rivals Fatah, the two groups and a Beijing-based diplomat said on Friday, a notable Chinese foray into Palestinian diplomacy amid the war in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas, which controls Gaza, is the group whose fighters stormed into Israeli towns on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and capturing 253 hostages. Israel has sworn to annihilate Hamas in an onslaught that has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians.

Fatah is the movement of Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Western-backed Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in the Israeli occupied West Bank.

The two rival Palestinian factions have failed to heal their political disputes since Hamas fighters expelled Fatah from Gaza in a short war in 2007. Washington is wary of moves to reconcile the two groups, as it supports the PA but has banned Hamas as terrorists.

A Fatah official told Reuters a delegation, led by the group’s senior official Azzam Al-Ahmed, had left for China. A Hamas official said the faction’s team for the talks, led by senior Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk, would be flying there later on Friday.

“We support strengthening the authority of the Palestinian National Authority, and support all Palestinian factions in achieving reconciliation and increasing solidarity through dialogue and consultation,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin at a regular briefing on Friday, without confirming the meeting.

The visit will be the first time a Hamas delegation is publicly known to have gone to China since the start of the war in Gaza. A Chinese diplomat, Wang Kejian, met Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh in Qatar last month, according to the Chinese foreign ministry.

The Beijing-based diplomat, who had been briefed on the matter, said the talks aimed to support efforts to reconcile the two Palestinian rival groups.

China has lately demonstrated growing diplomatic influence in the Middle East, where it enjoys strong ties with Arab nations and Iran. Last year, Beijing brokered a breakthrough peace deal between longstanding regional foes Saudi Arabia and Iran.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he discussed with Chinese President Xi Jinping and other officials in Beijing on Friday how China can play a constructive role in global crises, including the Middle East.

Chinese officials have ramped up advocacy for the Palestinians in international forums in recent months, calling for a larger-scale Israeli-Palestinian peace conference and a specific timetable to implement a two-state solution.

In February, Beijing urged the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to give its opinion on the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories, which it said was illegal.

More recently, China has been pushing for Palestine to join the United Nations, which Beijing’s top diplomat Wang Yi said last week would “rectify a prolonged historical injustice”.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Laurie Chen in Beijing; Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; Writing by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Peter Graff)