2 main Pales­tinian fac­tions sign rec­on­cil­i­a­tion agree­ment

Houston Chronicle - - WORLD - By Declan Walsh and David M. Halbfin­ger

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.

Some un­der­whelmed

Of­fi­cials from both sides stressed that the agree­ment, bro­kered by Egypt, was a first step, and that much de­pends on how events un­furl.

The 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 Thurs­day en­joyed 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, Ben­jamin 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.

The Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity has promised to lift sanc­tions that it im­posed on Gaza 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.

Egypt has promised to open the Rafah bor­der cross­ing once it comes un­der Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity con­trol. Egypt and Is­rael had closed Gaza’s bor­der cross­ings out of se­cu­rity con­cerns.

“The peo­ple need to feel there is some­thing from this agree­ment — elec­tric­ity, med­i­cal sup­plies, the abil­ity to travel for surgery,” said Ahmed Yousef, a se­nior Hamas of­fi­cial.

Pales­tinian of­fi­cials said the Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity pres­i­dent, Mah­moud Ab­bas, could visit Gaza in the com­ing month, his first visit there in a decade. Ab­bas gave his bless­ing to the deal, which he hailed as a “fi­nal agree­ment,” ac­cord­ing to Agence FrancePresse.

Yet the agree­ment left oth­ers un­der­whelmed. Among the many un­re­solved dif­fer­ences be­tween the sides is the gulf be­tween the Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity’s goal of achiev­ing state­hood through diplo­macy and Hamas’ mis­sion of armed re­sis­tance and lib­er­a­tion.

‘Not part of so­lu­tion’

Is­rael has warned that it could not ac­cept a unity gov­ern­ment that in­cluded Hamas. Ne­tanyahu’s of­fice said that Is­rael would “fol­low de­vel­op­ments on the ground and will act ac­cord­ingly.”

But later on Face­book, Ne­tanyahu is­sued a de­nun­ci­a­tion of Hamas.

“Rec­on­cil­ing with mass­mur­der­ers is part of the prob­lem, not part of the so­lu­tion,” he said.

Khalil Hamra / Associated Press

Pales­tini­ans cel­e­brate the rec­on­cil­i­a­tion agree­ment be­tween ri­vals Hamas and Fatah. The agree­ment could pave the way for Pales­tinian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas to re­sume gov­ern­ing the Gaza Strip, a decade af­ter Hamas over­ran it.

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