BEIRUT, Lebanon – The exiled leader of the Palestinian militant Hamas group voiced support Monday for upcoming national reconciliation talks with the rival Fatah faction.
The Syria-based Khaled Mashaal spoke during a rare visit to Beirut after holding talks with top Lebanese leaders.
Mashaal's trip is his first known visit to Lebanon since Israeli warplanes destroyed his faction's office in the Lebanese capital during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war. His movements are largely kept secret because of assassination fears.
His trip came a few days before Egypt hosts reconciliation talks between Hamas and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah group.
During the meetings that are to start in Cairo on Sunday, Hamas and Fatah are to talk about forming a joint government, rebuilding the security forces and setting a date for presidential and legislative elections.
"We are eager on making national reconciliation, scheduled to be held in Cairo, a success despite some problems facing it," Mashaal told reporters after meeting separately with Lebanon's president and prime minister. He urged both sides to "create a climate that serves" reconciliation.
Several rounds of power-sharing talks have failed since Hamas won parliament elections in 2006.
Fatah and Hamas have been at odds since the Hamas' violent takeover of the Gaza Strip in June 2007. Following the takeover, Abbas dissolved the Hamas-led government from his base in the West Bank and formed a new administration excluding the more radical group.
Mashaal, whose Hamas group is labeled a terrorist organization by the United States and Israel, accused America and the Jewish state of exerting pressure on Abbas to prevent reconciliation.
"Probably, the conditions are now conducive for reaching a real reconciliation even though there are still obstacles," he said. He did not elaborate.
Mashaal later held talks with other Lebanese leaders and said he will also meet with Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah.
The Hamas leader said his meetings focused on the situation in Lebanon's 12 Palestinian refugee camps.
The dispute between Hamas and Fatah has raised tensions among Lebanon's 400,000 Palestinian refugees. Some Islamic extremist groups with links to Al Qaeda also have found refuge within Lebanon's largest Palestinian refugee camp of Ein el-Hilweh in southern Lebanon, posing a challenge to the main Palestinian factions.