President Abbas will surely see Syrian President Bashar Al Assad when he arrives in Damascus tomorrow. He will meet with Vice President Farouk Al Shara and others in the Syrian leadership, as confirmed by sources close to President Abbas within his office.The sources told PNN that talks would revolve around the latest political developments in the Middle East in general and the Palestinian arena in particular, focusing on the Israeli occupation, the national unity government and the armed fight between Fateh and Hamas.
President Abbas will certainly meet with several leaders of Palestinian factions including Secretary General of the leftist Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Nayef Hawatma, and Secretary General of the Islamic Jihad movement, Ramadan Shallah. Chances are he will even meet with Ahmed Jabril, considered one of the biggest critics of President Abbas' Fateh party and described by some as the “archenemy” of the Fateh movement and its leadership.
But whether he will meet with Khalid Mashal remains to be seen. That was the original point of the visit to Damascus, but when unity talks faltered and Hamas and Fateh were fighting in the streets of Gaza, the meeting was called off. The Syrian government stepped in two weeks ago and issued a formal invitation to the Palestinian President, which he accepted.
But, after several meetings with the head of the Hamas political bureau living in exile, Mashal, two Fateh representatives gave up and said there was no hope of reunification between the parties.
Statements are contradictory, but have suggested that a Fateh meeting may take place with Mashal through intermediaries. Palestinian Legislative Council member and well-known leftist, Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, said from Damascus today that conditions “are ripe for Saturday's meeting” between President Abbas and Khalid Mashal. He has been attending meetings in the Syrian capital for the past several days to help pave the way for dialogue.
If President Abbas leaves Damascus without meeting with Mashal it will indicate a serious rupture between the Fateh and Hamas parties with major repercussions. What is good about the trip to Damascus though, even without a Mashal meeting, is that the Palestinian President will meet with several party leaders who are aligned with Syria. That is good for the Fateh member at this juncture in order to repair the damage caused by some of Fateh's positions which have been viewed as heeding the demands of the US, the recent Hamas – Fateh fighting, and the rift with Mashal. It is also important for the region to cement the alliance against the United States' “vision of a New Middle East,” that both Syria and Palestine reject.
Both Abbas and Mashal had indicated that they would not meet for the sake of giving the false impression that all was well between the two of them, being clear that the purpose of a meeting was serious and not a photo-op.
However, if the two do not meet, violence is expected to erupt again between the Fateh and Hamas members who fought in the streets last month. Some believe Mashal and Abbas will surely meet simply due to this reality, leaving more questions than answers until Saturday and beyond.