JUBILATION GREETS HAMAS, FATAH DEAL
Could ease Israeli-Egyptian tensions in Gaza
• Palestinian rivals Fatah and Hamas reached a preliminary agreement Thursday that could return the Gaza Strip to President Mahmoud Abbas’ control and ease a decade- old Israeli- Egyptian blockade of the coastal territory.
The deal was announced at a news conference in Cairo, where negotiators have been meeting, and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said it was reached under “generous Egyptian auspices,” without elaborating.
The sides have tried, and failed, to reach reconciliation several times before, but even with such skepticism Palestinians celebrated Thursday’s announcement.
“This is the dream and the ambition of every patriotic and honourable Palestinian, to reach unification,” said Ramallah resident Jawad Abu Shaikha.
In Gaza, residents took to the streets to rejoice. “I hope there will be implementation on the ground for the issues agreed upon, because we are truly tired from the division and poverty,” said Waed Mesameh.
A senior Palestinian official said Abbas, the leader of Fatah, might visit Gaza in the coming weeks, depending on the successful implementation of the agreement. The official spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of the formal announcement.
The Western- backed Abbas hasn’t set foot in Gaza since 2007, when the Islamic militant Hamas, his main ideological rival, seized the territory after days of factional street battles. The Hamas takeover left Abbas in control of autonomous enclaves in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Over the past decade, each side deepened control over its territory, making it increasingly difficult to forge compromises, and repeated attempts at reconciliation failed. Under the emerging agreement, Hamas would hand over responsibilities of governing Gaza to the West Bankbased government of Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah.
Azzam al- Ahmad, head of the Fatah delegation, said Abbas’ Palestinian Authority would assume control of the crossing points between Gaza and Israel by Nov. 1. He said Abbas’ presidential guard would assume control of the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt, but did not specify a timetable.
A permanent opening of the Rafah crossing would mean an end to the crippling Israeli and Egyptian blockade imposed on Gaza after the Hamas takeover, which bars the vast majority of Gaza’s two million people from leaving the territory.
Israel, which has fought three wars with Hamas since the takeover, has been cool to the idea of Fatah partnering with Hamas, which it along with most of the West considers to be a terrorist group. It also fears that opening Gaza’s borders would help Hamas expand its arsenal and rebuild its military infrastructure.
A young girl stands wrapped in an Egyptian flag as Palestinians gather in Gaza City to celebrate after rival factions Hamas and Fatah reached an agreement Thursday on ending a decade-long split following talks mediated by Egypt.