Hamas reaches deal with rival Fatah faction for political reconciliation in Palestinian Territories

Thursday, October 12, 2017

 

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah (right) and Hamas Chief Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza City on Oct 2, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

GAZA CITY, PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES (AFP, REUTERS) – Rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah have reached an agreement on aspects of a political reconciliation aimed at ending a decade-long split during talks mediated by Egypt in Cairo, officials said on Thursday (Oct 12).

Details of the agreement have not yet been released and a press conference was being planned for Thursday at 10am GMT in the Egyptian capital, where talks have been taking place since Tuesday.

“An agreement was reached today between Hamas and Fatah under Egyptian sponsorship,” a statement from Hamas leader Ismail Haniya’s office said, without giving further details.

“We congratulate our Palestinian people on the reconciliation agreement reached in Cairo. We make every effort possible to implement it to start a new chapter in the history of our people,” Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem told Reuters.

A party to the negotiations, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the agreement would see forces of the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, which is dominated by Fatah, take control of the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt.

He added that all Palestinian factions would begin wider negotiations on the formation of a national unity government in the coming two weeks.

Mr Fayez Abu Eita, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement and member of its delegation in Cairo, said details of the deal would be announced at the press conference.

The two sides had been meeting in the Egyptian capital this week with the aim of ending a crippling decade-old split between the rival factions.

Hamas seized Gaza from Fatah in a near civil war in 2007 and the two factions have been at loggerheads ever since. Multiple previous reconciliation talks have failed.

Both rivals hope the deal’s proposed deployment of security personnel from the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority to Gaza’s borders will encourage Egypt and Israel to lift their tight restrictions at border crossings, a much-needed step to help Gaza revive its economy.

Egypt has been keen to improve security in the Sinai Peninsula, which borders Gaza and where Islamist rebels have fought a long-running insurgency.

An Egyptian source close to the talks said intelligence chief Khaled Fawzi had followed the talks closely.

Last month, Hamas agreed to cede civil power in Gaza to the Palestinian Authority, but the fate of its vast military wing remains a significant issue for the two sides.

Under the deal, 3,000 Fatah security officers will join the Gaza police force. But Hamas would still have the most powerful armed Palestinian faction, whose estimated 25,000 well-equipped fighters have fought three wars with Israel since 2008.

Islamist movement Hamas is blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by the United States and the European Union.

Faced with increasing isolation and a severe electricity shortage, Hamas had reached out to Egypt for help, hoping to have the Rafah border opened.

The crossing has remained largely closed in recent years.

Egypt had also agreed to provide fuel to the Gaza Strip for electricity production.

In return, Cairo had pressed Hamas to move forward on reconciliation with rival Fatah, prompting the two sides to launch into the negotiations.

Many analysts are treating the latest bid with caution, waiting to see if actual change will occur on the ground in Gaza.

Last week, Palestinian Authority Prime minister Rami Hamdallah visited Gaza for the first time since 2015 and his ministers officially took control of government departments in the territory.

But the move was seen as mainly symbolic, with Hamas still effectively in charge in the Palestinian enclave of two million people bordered by Egypt, Israel and the Mediterranean Sea.

Reconciliation could also pose a dilemma for international efforts to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal since Hamas has not recognised Israel, unlike the Abbas-led Palestine Liberation Organisation.

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