GAZA STRIP - Rival Palestinian factions - Hamas and Fatah - appear closer than ever to an elusive reconciliation, according to Hamas sources in the Gaza Strip.
Last week's visit to Cairo by exiled Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal yielded a decision to sign a "reconciliation accord" by year's end in exchange for Egypt agreeing to permanently reopen the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and the Egyptian Sinai.
Hamas wrested control of the Gaza Strip from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction in a bloody military coup in June 2007.
Following the takeover, Egypt closed the Rafah crossing despite protests by Hamas.
After the coup, Israel also closed its border crossings with Gaza in response to daily rocket and mortar shell attacks on Sderot and other communities in the south, while allowing humanitarian aid to continue being transferred.
In January 2008, Hamas operatives blew up portions of the cement security barrier near the Rafah crossing, allowing thousands of Gazans to cross the border into Sinai.
After the barrier was repaired, Egypt refused to reopen the crossing, except occassionally for "humanitarian" purposes.
Meanwhile, plans are underway for a senior Fatah delegation to meet with their Hamas counterparts in the Gaza Strip for further talks on the terms of the reconciliation.
On Tuesday, Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar led a group of senior officials to Cairo for more discussion forming on a unity government with Fatah.
Source: The Jerusalem Post