Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi met with Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Mashaal in Cairo on Thursday, a day after meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The meetings were intended to show that the new Egyptian president does not favor one Palestinian faction over another.
Mashaal's deputy Mousa Abu Marzouk and senior Hamas leader in Gaza Mahmoud a-Zahar also attended the meeting.
Mashaal told reporters after the meeting that he discussed internal Palestinian issues with Morsi, including the impasse over the implementation of a reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas last year under Egyptian guidance, and solutions for the fuel crisis in Gaza.
"Morsi affirmed Egypt's support for Palestinians in Gaza, which confirms a new era in relations between Egypt and the Palestinian cause," Mashaal said in comments published by the Egyptian state news agency MENA.
Hamas called the meeting, the first between its officials and an Egyptian head of state, "historic," AFP reported.
Hamas' prime minister in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh is set to meet with Morsi for the first time in Cairo next week, Haniyeh's office announced.
A day before the meeting with Mashaal, the new Egyptian president met with Abbas to discuss Palestinian reconciliation, peace talks with Israel and issues relating to the Gaza-Egypt border crossing.
Abbas told reporters after the meeting that "the doors of the political process with Israel are shut" and that the two sides were not holding bilateral talks.
Egypt's intelligence services brokered a reconciliation pact in May 2011 that was supposed to end a four-year rift that has divided the territories envisioned for a future Palestinian state into two separate entities (the West Bank and Gaza Strip). But the agreement has not been implemented, with both sides unwilling to concede power. Hamas has ruled Gaza for five years after winning the elections and later expelling forces loyal to Abbas.
Morsi has pledged to change Egypt's policies from those of ousted President Hosni Mubarak, who preferred the Western-backed Fatah of Abbas and saw Hamas as a threat.
Morsi has signaled, though, that there will not be radical changes in policy anytime soon. He has pledged to honor all past agreements, a statement meant to reassure the West that he will adhere to Egypt's 1979 peace treaty with Israel.
The peace accord is a cornerstone of U.S. policy in the region. Washington provides about $1.3 billion annually in military aid to Egypt as part of that deal.
Egypt's military council, led by Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, Mubarak's defense minister of 20 years, also still holds considerable powers despite Morsi's win last month. Just before his inauguration, the generals stripped the presidency of many powers and kept them for themselves.
Hamas was jubilant over Morsi's election in neighboring Egypt last month, hoping the Egyptian leader would lift years of travel and trade restrictions that have hit Palestinians in the Gaza Strip hard. Morsi's Brotherhood has suggested allowing more Palestinians and aid to flow through the Gaza-Egypt border crossing, but has not given support for a regular trade route. Israeli officials insist there is no change in their policy of isolating Gaza.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Morsi said his administration will not pick sides between rival Palestinian factions.
"We have said before that we stand at equal distance from all Palestinian factions," he said. "We support and aid them and are always happy to help in reconciliation."