Pales­tinian ri­vals reach pre­lim­i­nary deal on gov­ern­ing 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, but past at­tempts at unity have foundered on key is­sues that re­main un­re­solved.

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. Egypt has been ea­ger to show progress in unity talks, and both Pales­tinian fac­tions face pres­sure to re­solve their dif­fer­ences.

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 Bank-based 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.

“The Rafah cross­ing needs some mea­sures to im­prove and ren­o­vate the build­ings,” al-Ah­mad said during the an­nounce­ment of the deal.

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 pre­vents free trade and bars the vast ma­jor­ity of Gaza’s 2 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.

Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu said Ha­mas is re­quired to rec­og­nize Is­rael, cease its mil­i­tant ac­tiv­i­ties, re­lease Is­raeli hostages it holds and abide by in­ter­na­tional agree­ments, de­mands the Is­lamic mil­i­tant group has al­ways re­jected.

“Is­rael ob­jects to a rec­on­cil­i­a­tion that does not in­clude these el­e­ments,” he said in a state­ment. “So long as Ha­mas does not dis­arm and con­tin­ues to call for the de­struc­tion of Is­rael, Is­rael sees it as re­spon­si­ble for all ter­ror em­a­nat­ing from Gaza.”

Only one of Gaza’s four com­mer­cial cross­ings to Is­rael, Kerem Shalom, is cur­rently op­er­at­ing. A small num­ber of peo­ple, mainly med­i­cal pa­tients, busi­ness peo­ple and aid work­ers, use the Erez cross­ing to en­ter Is­rael, usu­ally bound for the West Bank.

Of­fi­cials close to the talks said the sides agreed to set up com­mit­tees to work out the out­stand­ing de­tails.

In the past, such mech­a­nisms quickly led to dead­lock.

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