GAZA, Jan. 8 (Xinhua) -- The Palestinian rivals of Islamic Hamas movement and President Mahmoud Abbas Fatah Party are holding direct and positive contacts over ending an internal split that has been going on for almost seven years, a senior Palestinian official said on Wednesday.
Taher al-Nouno, the media aide to Hamas premier Ismail Haneya told Xinhua that there are "direct and positive contacts between Fatah and Hamas leaders to go ahead with achieving an internal reconciliation.
Hamas authorities on Wednesday released seven prisoners of rival Fatah party in the Gaza Strip in a move that Hamas says aims at cooling the atmosphere for reconciliation while Fatah considered it a sketchy step.
"Hamas government hopes that the efforts to finalize internal reconciliation and end the ongoing division will succeed amid the latest positive signs to create a better atmosphere for reconciliation and unity," said al-Nouno.
On Monday, Haneya announced that his government will allow fugitive Fatah members to return to Gaza, excluding those who face criminal charges, and will release some Fatah members held for security charges.
Haneya also told reporters that Gaza-native Fatah members of the Palestinian parliament, who settled in the West Bank after 2007, are welcomed to return home.
Hamas and Fatah reached several reconciliation agreements over the past three years in Cairo and Qatar, but differences over elections and security thwarted the power-sharing pacts. Islam Shahwan, spokesperson for the Hamas-run interior ministry, said the releases came in response to decisions by Prime Minister Ismail Haneya.
Shahwan said that he hopes this move would create "positive climate toward achieving Palestinian reconciliation," adding that more steps in this direction would follow, without giving more details.
In 2007, Hamas routed forces loyal to Abbas, ousted his Fatah party and took over Gaza. The two rival groups traded accusations that each is arresting the activists of the other in Gaza and the West Bank.
Saleh Abdul Salam, one of the seven Fatah freed prisoners told Xinhua he hopes that his release would contribute to backing the efforts of achieving reconciliation and regain unity among the Palestinians.
Fatah, which holds sway in the West Bank, said Hamas' moves were sketchy and failed to show a real interest in reconciliation.
"This is a correction of a mistake Hamas committed through arrests, travel bans and restrictions on Fatah members returning home," Ahmed Assaf, a Fatah spokesperson, told Xinhua.
"True intentions require the release of all Fatah prisoners," Assaf added, noting that Hamas still holds dozens of Fatah activists.
The seven detainees released Wednesday were serving prison terms from one to three years. Hamas said they were arrested on security-related questions but did not specify their charges.
Yasser al-Wadeya, chairman of the Palestinian Independent Figures Forum told Xinhua that the release of Fatah prisoners from Hamas prisons in Gaza "is a positive step that needs to build on it for achieving reconciliation and ending division."
"It is so important to hurry up in forming the transitional unity government that prepares for social reconciliation and prepare for holding the general elections," said Wadeya.