Pales­tinian ri­vals Hamas, Fatah sign Gaza deal

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - INTERNATIONAL - DECLAN WALSH

CAIRO — Hamas and Fatah signed a rec­on­cil­i­a­tion deal Thurs­day in Cairo that aims to end their decade-old ri­valry by pro­vid­ing for a joint ad­min­is­tra­tion with con­trol of Gaza’s bor­ders, in­clud­ing a key cross­ing point with Egypt, but that leaves thornier is­sues un­re­solved.

Un­der the agree­ment, which was bro­kered by Egyp­tian in­tel­li­gence, Fatah will lift a se­ries of puni­tive sanc­tions that it im­posed on Hamas-con­trolled Gaza ear­lier this year.

In re­turn, Hamas of­fi­cials said they would al­low the Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity to re­sume con­trol in Gaza. Egypt said a “gov­ern­ment of na­tional ac­cord” would take ef­fect by Dec. 1. Pales­tinian of­fi­cials said that, if all went well, Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas could visit Gaza within the com­ing month — his first visit to the coastal strip in a decade.

The deal was seen as a sig­nif­i­cant step to­ward end­ing the civil war that has split Pales­tini­ans since vi­o­lent clashes be­tween Hamas and Fatah in 2007.

A pre­vi­ous agree­ment be­tween Hamas and Fatah — also signed in Cairo, in 2011 — came to noth­ing. Pales­tinian of­fi­cials said the deal reached Thurs­day en­joys a greater chance of suc­cess be­cause it is backed by Saudi Ara­bia, the United States and, they be­lieve, Is­rael.

Al­though he was not in Cairo, Ab­bas gave his bless­ing to the deal, which he hailed as a “fi­nal agree­ment.”

“I wel­come the agree­ment reached be­tween the Fatah and Hamas move­ments in Cairo,” he told Agence France-Presse, adding that he had given or­ders to sign it im­me­di­ately.

Ab­bas has not vis­ited Gaza, a tiny ter­ri­tory that is home to 2 mil­lion peo­ple, since Hamas ejected Fatah af­ter a se­ries of armed clashes.

De­tails of the deal reached in Cairo were ini­tially un­clear. Sev­eral Western news or­ga­ni­za­tions were ex­cluded from a brief sign­ing cer­e­mony at the head­quar­ters of Egypt’s Gen­eral In­tel­li­gence Ser­vice, which bro­kered talks Tues­day and Wed­nes­day that led to the agree­ment.

A video sup­plied by a Pales­tinian of­fi­cial showed the deputy leader of Hamas, Saleh al-Arouri, em­brac­ing Az­zam al-Ah­mad, the head of the Fatah del­e­ga­tion, af­ter the sign­ing.

Egypt’s State In­for­ma­tion Ser­vice is­sued an un­signed state­ment say­ing the two ri­vals had “agreed on pro­ce­dures” for a rec­on­cil­i­a­tion gov­ern­ment that would take ef­fect on Dec. 1. But the state­ment also ac­knowl­edged con­tin­u­ing “di­vi­sions” and said that Egypt would host an­other meet­ing on Nov. 21.

Ahmed Yousef, an ad­viser to the Hamas leader, Is­mail Haniya, said the two sides had agreed to joint con­trol over the Rafah bor­der cross­ing with Egypt, a key life­line for Gaza’s res­i­dents.

Re­act­ing to news re­ports, cit­ing Fatah of­fi­cials, that Fatah would take con­trol of the cross­ing, he said, “We will dis­cuss the pos­si­bil­ity of al­low­ing the pres­i­den­tial guard from the West Bank to con­trol it.”

Yousef said the two sides would con­vene com­mit­tees to in­te­grate their min­istries into a rec­on­cil­i­a­tion gov­ern­ment. One ma­jor chal­lenge, he said, would be to re­duce the bloated, 200,000-strong Pales­tinian civil ser­vice, which he es­ti­mated needs to be cut by as much as 20 per­cent.

But, he added, the two sides had not dis­cussed a num­ber of crit­i­cal ques­tions, in­clud­ing a joint strat­egy for deal­ing with Is­rael, the con­duct of any fu­ture elec­tions and, cru­cially, the state of the Hamas mil­i­tary wing.

When lead­ers from Hamas and Fatah signed a sim­i­lar deal in 2011, Ab­bas said, “We have turned the black page of di­vi­sion for­ever.” But the deal quickly foundered as Is­rael op­posed it, say­ing the agree­ment was a “vic­tory for ter­ror­ism.”

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