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Palestinian cabinet convenes in Gaza to reconcile with Hamas

The Palestinian cabinet held its first session in the Gaza Strip since 2014 as part of efforts aimed at reconciliation between the Fatah party and Hamas.

world Updated: Oct 03, 2017 15:48 IST
Palestine,Hamas,Gaza Strip
Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah (centre) chairs a cabinet meeting in Gaza City on October 3, 2017. (Reuters)

Prime Minister Rami al-Hamdallah on Tuesday chaired the first meeting of the Palestinian cabinet in Gaza for three years in a move towards reconciliation between the mainstream Fatah party and Islamist group Hamas.

Hamas seized the Gaza Strip in 2007 in fighting with Fatah forces loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas and has ruled the impoverished desert enclave of two million people since then.

The cabinet session was the first in Gaza since 2014, Hamdallah told his ministers, and a major step in a reconciliation process promoted by neighbouring Egypt and other US-allied Arab countries.

“Today, we stand before an important, historical moment as we begin to get over our wounds, put our differences aside and place the higher national interest above all else,” he said.

Hamas, considered a terrorist group by Israel and the West, last month disbanded its Gaza shadow government after Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates imposed an economic boycott on its main donor, Qatar.

A banner bearing a photograph of Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi hangs on the facade of the Palestinian government's headquarters in Gaza City on October 3, 2017. (AFP)

But while Hamas handed over administrative responsibilities to a unity government originally formed three years ago, its armed wing remains the dominant force in Gaza.

“We understand that returning official institutions to their legitimate and legal framework and ending all the impacts of division will require exhausting efforts and a lot of patience, of time and of wisdom,” Hamdallah said.

Abbas told Egyptian TV station CBC on Monday there could be only “one state, one regime, one law and one weapon” in the Gaza Strip, reiterating a long-held position that security should only be in the hands of the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Abbas is based in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and heads the PA government that administers limited self rule in the territory.

A PA spokesman said Abbas would not lift sanctions on Gaza at this stage but rather await the outcome of talks planned between Fatah and Hamas in the next two weeks.

Pressuring Hamas to loosen its grip on Gaza, he halted payments for Israeli-supplied electricity to the enclave in June, a step that has led to lengthy, daily blackouts. He also withheld salaries for Gaza civil servants.

“Everything must be in the hands of the Palestinian Authority, it must be the one to control the crossing points (in and out of Gaza),” he said. Both Israel and Egypt maintain a partial blockade of Gaza, citing security concerns.

Under previous understandings, some 3,000 Fatah security men would be integrated gradually into a Gaza police force overseen by an interior ministry headed by Hamdallah. Hamas’s armed wing, analysts say, has at least 25,000 well-equipped fighters.

The US, which is trying to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that collapsed in 2014, is watching developments closely with the aim of improving humanitarian conditions in Gaza, Jason Greenblatt, US President Donald Trump’s Middle East envoy, said on Twitter.

But Greenblatt said: “The United States stresses that any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to non-violence, recognition of the state of Israel, acceptance of previous agreements and obligations between the parties, and peaceful negotiations.”

Hamas has long rejected those conditions.

First Published: Oct 03, 2017 15:48 IST