World Bulletin / News Desk
Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi and Hamas's leader in the Gaza Strip, Ismail Haniyeh, on Thursday examined easing restrictions on residents of the Palestinian enclave, Morsi's spokesman said.
Haniyeh's visit to Cairo, the second by a top-ranking Hamas official since the Islamist Morsi's election last month, came days after Palestinian officials said Egypt had eased visa requirements for Gazans under 40.
Mursi and Haniyeh discussed "solutions relating to lifting the siege and alleviating the suffering of Gazans," said Morsi spokesman Yassir Ali in comments published by the official MENA news agency.
Haniyeh made no statement after the talks.
A Palestinian official said the head of Egyptian intelligence had promised measures to increase the flow of fuel supplied by Qatar to Gaza via Egypt and needed to ease the small Palestinian territory's power shortages. The sides had also discussed increasing the flow of Palestinians across the border.
But there was no immediate sign that Cairo was ready to open up its border with Gaza to the extent sought by Hamas, something analysts partly attributed to the influence still wielded by the Hosni Mubarak-era security establishment.
"Mursi's heart is with Hamas but his mind is elsewhere," said Hany al-Masri, a Palestinian political commentator. "He will give them as much as he can but he won't be able to give them much because his powers are restricted," he said.
Mursi's victory was celebrated in Gaza as a turning point for a territory whose economy has been choked by a blockade imposed by Israel and in which Egypt took part by stopping everything but a trickle of people from crossing the border.
"He will be very cautious," said Mustapha Kamel Al-Sayyid, an Egyptian analyst. "The intelligence and the military will have their say on this."
Mursi's spokesman said the meeting had touched on subjects including "lifting the siege and the suffering of the people in Gaza" and reconciliation with the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, led by Mahmoud Abbas.
Sworn in on June 30, Mursi is trying to stamp his authority on an Egyptian state still influenced to a large degree by a council of military generals led by Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, Mubarak's defence minister for two decades.
Mursi, Haniyeh share Ramadan meal
Mubarak had regarded Gaza's Islamist rulers with suspicion bordering on outright hostility reflecting his enmity towards the Brotherhood, the ideological parent of Hamas that was outlawed for decades in Egypt until last year's uprising.
Earlier this month, Mursi received both Abbas and Khaled Meshaal, the Hamas leader in exile.
On Thursday, Haniyeh and Mursi shared a Ramadan iftar - the meal with which Muslims break their fast during the holy Islamic fasting month. Earlier, Haniyeh had met chief of intelligence Murad Muwafi, reflecting the role still played by the Egyptian security establishment in managing Palestinian affairs.
The Egyptians said the quantity of fuel supplied via Egypt to Gaza would be more than doubled next week, a Palestinian official familiar with the talks told Reuters.
The fuel supplied by Qatar goes from Egypt into Israel, from where it passes through a crossing into Gaza.
Earlier this year, Brotherhood officials had lobbied for the fuel to be sent straight across Egypt's border with Gaza - a move sought by Hamas and which would have marked a major step towards opening the border to trade and commerce.
In another apparent gesture triggered by Mursi's election victory, Egypt is to ease restrictions on Palestinians travelling through Egyptian territory on their way in and out of Gaza, Egyptian border officials said this week.
Palestinians on that route have complained of mistreatment including detention at their port of arrival ahead of their deportation to the Rafah crossing.
A diplomat familiar with Cairo's policies on Gaza did not expect Mursi to open Rafah to trade. But all else could be discussed, he said, including "improving conditions at crossings and increasing the number of passengers and Egyptian aid".