Pales­tinian pact hailed as step to unite ter­ri­to­ries

Deal places Gaza, West Bank un­der sin­gle govern­ment

The Dallas Morning News - - Nation&world - De­clan Walsh and David M. Halbfinger, The New York Times

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 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.

Both sides hailed the agree­ment as a sig­nif­i­cant step to­ward unit­ing the Pales­tinian ter­ri­to­ries, but 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 Thurs­day en­joyed a greater chance of suc­cess be­cause it is backed by Saudi Ara­bia, Egypt and, they be­lieve, the United States and Is­rael.

But 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.

Ha­mas has fought three wars with Is­rael, and has in­sisted on its right to main­tain con­trol of its “weapons of re­sis­tance,” in­clud­ing thou­sands of rock­ets, mis­siles and drones, as well as a net­work of for­ti­fied tun­nels.

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.

Egypt, which bro­kered the agree­ment, 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, tightly reg­u­lat­ing the flow of goods and peo­ple in what crit­ics called an eco­nomic block­ade of the ter­ri­tory.

“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 that if all went well, the Pales­tinian Author­ity pres­i­dent, Mah­moud Ab­bas, could visit Gaza in the com­ing month, his first visit to the em­bat­tled coastal strip in a decade. Although he was not in Cairo, Ab­bas gave his bless­ing to the deal, which he hailed as a “fi­nal agree­ment,” ac­cord­ing to Agence France-presse.

Pales­tini­ans cau­tiously cel­e­brated the deal, their en­thu­si­asm tem­pered by mem­o­ries of many failed pre­vi­ous ini­tia­tives.

In Gaza City, ven­dors passed out sweets to chil­dren in Sol­dier’s Square, a park at the cen­ter of town. Mona Khfaja, 37, a phar­ma­cist who said she had been un­able to leave Gaza for a year to seek treat­ment for kid­ney dis­ease, said pop­u­lar dis­sat­is­fac­tion un­der the border re­stric­tions — what she said had verged on a “hun­gry rev­o­lu­tion” — had forced po­lit­i­cal lead­ers to the ta­ble.

“The con­se­quences of di­vi­sion are worse than the reper­cus­sion of wars,” she said. “We do not want the flags of Fatah and Ha­mas, only the Pales­tinian flag.”

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