Palestinian factions sign major unity deal
Agreement a ‘first step’ to potentially ease emerging humanitarian crisis in Gaza
CAIRO— The main Palestinian factions signed a reconciliation agreement Thursday that aims to mend their decade-old rift and places Gaza and the West Bank under one government for the first time since 2007.
Under the agreement, the Palestinian Authority, which now controls the West Bank, would in the coming weeks take administrative control of Gaza and police its borders, merging its security forces and ministries with those of Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls the coastal strip.
While both sides hailed the agreement as a significant step toward uniting the Palestinian territories — and potential relief for Gazans suffering dire shortages of electricity and medical supplies — it left many thornier issues unresolved, including the fate of the main Hamas militia and the network of tunnels under Gaza used by fighters and smugglers.
Officials from both sides stressed that the agreement, brokered by Egypt, was a first step, and that much depends on how events unfurl on the ground in the coming weeks.
The two sides agreed to begin talks next month to form a unity government that would oversee both territories. Those talks would have to wrestle with the issues that derailed previous peace initiatives.
Palestinian officials said the deal reached in Cairo on Thursday en- joyed a greater chance of success because it is backed by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and, they believe, the United States and Israel.
But the Israeli prime minister, Ben- jamin Netanyahu, threw cold water on it, saying that Israel “objects to any reconciliation that does not include” accepting international agreements, recognizing Israel and disarming Hamas.
In the short term, the agreement promises to ease conditions in Gaza that aid organizations have warned constitute an emerging humanitarian crisis.
The Palestinian Authority has promised to lift sanctions that it imposed on Gaza earlier this year as part of its effort to pressure Hamas into talks.
The government, led by the Fatah faction, cut electricity supplies to a few hours a day and stopped paying government salaries in Gaza.
Palestinian officials said that if all went well, the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, could visit Gaza in the coming month, his first visit to the coastal strip in a decade. Although he was not in Cairo, Abbas gave his blessing to the deal.
The two rival Palestinian movements have ended their decade-long split following negotiations overseen by Egypt.