updated 11/2/2007 9:24:19 AM ET 2007-11-02T13:24:19

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas held a rare meeting Friday with members of the Islamic group Hamas, four months after Hamas militants defeated his own forces and took over the Gaza Strip.

The rivalry between Abbas and Hamas is bitter and often violent, and Abbas has repeatedly said he would have no contact with Hamas until it cedes power in Gaza. Israel has said that if Abbas renews ties with the Islamic group — which remains openly committed to Israel’s destruction — it will break off peace talks with the Palestinians.

The meeting followed Friday prayers at Abbas’ presidential compound and was attended by four Hamas members, including Nasser al-Shaer, who was deputy prime minister in the Hamas-led unity government that broke apart after the Gaza takeover in June.

Al-Shaer said the group discussed “internal affairs in an open atmosphere” with Abbas, but added that the visit was “not a meeting between Hamas and the President.” Abbas’ office also denied that the meeting was official or that the Hamas men had been invited.

But one of the Hamas men, Hussein Abu Quaik, said they had been invited to prayers by Abbas.

“Everybody in Hamas knew about this,” Abu Quaik said. “This will contribute to strengthening our relationship, and lay the basis for national unity, God willing.”

Israel is wary
Israeli government spokesman David Baker said Israel objected to any contacts with Hamas.

“It’s Israel’s position that Hamas should be sidelined and kept out of the game until it accepts the conditions placed upon it by the international community,” Baker said. Those conditions are recognizing Israel, renouncing violence, and agreeing to respect past peace agreements. Hamas has refused to meet any of the conditions.

For the Hamas men, Friday’s meeting appeared to be an attempt to distance themselves from their movement’s members in Gaza, where a Hamas leader said this week that Abbas would soon be deposed and that the Islamic group would take over the West Bank as it did Gaza.

Ahmed Abdel Rahman, an Abbas adviser, denied the Hamas men had been invited, and reiterated that Abbas would resume contacts with Hamas only if it apologized for the Gaza takeover and withdrew from security installations there.

The Hamas men came to express their “rejection” of their counterparts in Gaza, Abdel Rahman said.

“The four members expressed their commitment to the legitimacy and the authority of Abbas ... and reiterated their respect for law and order,” he said.

Hamas members in the West Bank have been increasingly cowed since their movement’s June takeover in Gaza. After his forces were routed in Gaza, Abbas ordered a clampdown on Hamas in the West Bank, arresting hundreds of activists, closing Hamas-linked charities and issuing an anti-money laundering decree meant to dry up donations to the group.

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