Palestinian rivals Hamas and Fatah sign reconciliation deal
Hamas agrees to hand over administrative control of Gaza a decade after seizing enclave
Palestinians celebrate after Hamas said it had reached a deal with Palestinian rival Fatah, in Gaza City on Thursday. Photograph: Suhaib Salem/Reuters
Rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah signed a reconciliation deal on Thursday after Hamas agreed to hand over administrative control of Gaza, including the key Rafah border crossing, a decade after seizing the enclave in a civil war.
The deal brokered by Egypt bridges a bitter gulf between the western-backed mainstream Fatah party of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas, an Islamist movement designated as a terrorist group by western countries and Israel. Palestinian unity could also bolster Mr Abbas’s hand in any revival of talks on a Palestinian state in Israeli-occupied territory.
Internal Palestinian strife has been a major obstacle to peacemaking, with Hamas having fought three wars with Israel since 2008 and continuing to call for its destruction.
Hamas’s agreement to transfer administrative powers in Gaza to a Fatah-backed government marked a major reversal, prompted partly by its fears of financial and political isolation after its main patron and donor Qatar plunged in June into a major diplomatic dispute with key allies like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Qatar of supporting Islamist militants, which it denies.
Thousands of Palestinians took to the streets across Gaza on Thursday in celebration of the unity pact, with loudspeakers on open cars blasting national songs, youths dancing and hugging and many waving Palestine and Egyptian flags.
Egypt helped mediate several previous attempts to reconcile the two movements and form a power-sharing unity government in Gaza and the West Bank, where Mr Abbas and the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA) are based.
Hamas and Fatah agreed in 2014 to form a national reconciliation government but the deal soon dissipated in mutual recriminations, with Hamas continuing to dominate Gaza.
“The legitimate government, the government of consensus, will return according to its responsibilities and according to the law,” Fatah delegation chief Azzam Al-Ahmed said at the signing ceremony in Cairo. He said the unity government would “run all institutions without exception”, including all border crossings with Israel and in Rafah, Gaza’s only access point with Egypt.
The agreement calls for Mr Abbas’s presidential guard to assume responsibility of the Rafah crossing on November 1st, and for the full handover of administrative control of Gaza to the unity government to be completed by December 1st.
Analysts said the deal is more likely to stick than earlier ones given Hamas’s growing isolation and realisation of how hard Gaza, its economy hobbled by border blockades and infrastructure shattered by wars with Israel, was to govern and rebuild. Deeper Egyptian involvement, believed to have been backed by Saudi Arabia and other Arab states, also helped cement the deal.
“We in Hamas are determined and are serious this time and just like all other times . . . We have dissolved the administrative committee [shadow government] . . . We have opened the door to reaching this reconciliation,” Saleh Arouri, the head of Hamas negotiators in Cairo, said after the signing ceremony.
Delegations from the two rivals have been in talks in Cairo this week to work out the details of the administrative handover, including security in Gaza and at border crossings.
Key was the Rafah crossing, once the gateway to the world for the two million people packed into the small impoverished territory. Fatah said it should be run by presidential guards with supervision from the European Union border agency, known as EUBAM, instead of the currently deployed Hamas-linked employees.
Some 3,000 Fatah security officers are to join the Gaza police force. But Hamas would remain the most powerful armed Palestinian faction with about 25,000 well-armed militants.
Both rivals hope the deal’s proposed deployment of security personnel from the PA to Gaza’s borders will encourage Egypt and Israel to lift tight restrictions at frontier crossings – a step urgently needed to help Gaza revive a war-shattered economy.