Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas have reached a reconciliation agreement, Hamas political chief Ismail Haniyeh announced on Thursday. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas commented that the deal constituted "a declaration of the end to division and a return to national Palestinian unity."
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The agreement, which follows two days of intensive negotiations at the headquarters of Egyptian intelligence in Cairo, has focused on the integration of Hamas officials into the Palestinian Authority's relevant ministries, the rebuilding of Gaza's police system, and the joint management of the strip's crossings.
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Israeli officials responded to the agreement in a diplomatic tone, saying "Israel will follow developments on the ground and will act accordingly," senior Israeli officials in Jerusalem said. However, they warned of continued terror efforts by Hamas, adding that any reconciliation agreement must meet the conditions of the Middle East Quartet, comprising the UN, U.S., EU and Russia which require Hamas recognize Israel and disarm itself.
"Continued tunnel activity, rocket building and the exporting of terrorism against Israel is in contradition to the Quartet's conditions and U.S. efforts to restart the diplomatic process," they said.
The issue of introducing a joint PA, Hamas presence at Gaza's border crossings is key in efforts to encourage Israel and Egypt to lift the economic blockade that is currently in place over the strip.
Representatives of both organizations held a press conference and short signing ceremony divulging details of the agreement. The press conference was recorded ahead of time. Shortly before its broadcast, Egyptian television published pictures of the head of the two delegations Azzam al-Ahmad and Salah Al-Arouri signing the reconciliation agreement in the presence of Egyptian intelligence minister, Khaled Fawzy. The issue of Hamas' military wing and wider political strategies are only to be discussed at a later date.
Al-Ahmad, the head of Fatah's delegation, said at the conference: "There is agreement to return the Palestinian government to the Gaza Strip. What's important now is to implement the particulars of the agreement so that the government will fully function. The Egyptian attempt this time was different from all the preceding ones, and it's clear to everyone that Egypt is the national guarantor of security for the Arab world."
Leader of Hamas' delegation Salah al-Arouri said: "We promise to implement the reconciliation agreement, and we'll do everything to continue the reconciliation. We didn't start anew," he added, "but we based [the agreement] on the Cairo agreement of 2011. We will act in stages, and the discussions that we've held over the past two days focused on returning the Palestinian government to operate and govern fully in the Gaza Strip."
According to reports in Cairo, the reason for the press conference's not being broadcast live was the extremely large presence of journalists who came to intelligence headquarters in the city.
Hundreds of Palestinians gathered in the center of Gaza City to watch the press conference shown on public screens. Residents celebrated in the city's Unknown Soldier's Square, waving Palestinian and Egyptian flags. The young demonstrators said they expect the government to first address the Strip's many problems, including rising unemployment and the humanitarian crisis.
Thursday afternoon, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the leader of Hamas in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, spoke by telephone. They agreed to collaborate on implementing the reconciliation agreement.
According to the agreement, responsibility for the Rafah border crossing will be transferred to the Palestinian government, and the Palestinian Presidential Guard will be responsible for the compound.
The Rafah crossing was once the gateway to the world for Gaza's 2 million people. Fatah said it should be run by the presidential guards, supervised by the European Union border agency, EUBAM, instead of the Hamas-linked employees now deployed.
"EUBAM Rafah maintains readiness to redeploy to the Rafah crossing point when the security and political situations will allow," said Mohammad Al-Saadi, press officer for the EU Coordinating Office for Palestinian Police Support. Any decision on EUBAM deployment would be taken in conjunction with the Palestinian Authority and Israel's government, he said in a statement.
Some 3,000 Fatah security officers are to join the Gaza police force. But Hamas would remain the most powerful armed Palestinian faction, with around 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.
Another major issue in talks on the deal was the fate of 40,000 to 50,000 employees Hamas has hired in Gaza since 2007, a thorny point that helped crash the 2014 unity accord.
Under the deal, these employees will receive 50 percent of what their PA salary would be – or equivalent to what they are paid now by Hamas – pending vetting of their professional qualifications.
Palestinian media reported that invitations have been issued to all Palestinian factions to meet in Cairo on November 21.
"The next phase of reconciliation will be a meeting of representatives of all the Palestinian factions in Cairo to discuss the major national issues - such as Hamas's military wing, the issue of weapons and political positions," Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said on Thursday.
The Palestinian government is expected to return to the Gaza Strip no later than December 1. A senior Hamas official in Gaza, Salah al-Badwil, said that the meeting in Cairo next month "will be to discuss the establishment of an expanded national unity government."