U.S. Welcomes Palestinian Authority Control in Gaza – but Urges Hamas to Accept Israel

Earlier this week the Palestinian Authority retook control of Gaza's crossings, as the Palestinian unity agreement continues to hold

Hamas security men stand guard a at checkpoint sill held by the Islamist group near an area they handed over the control to the Palestinian Authority on November 1, 2017 in Beit Hanun, the northern access point into the Gaza Strip. 
Hamas handed over control of the Gaza Strip's borders with Egypt and Israel to the Palestinian Authority in the first key test of a landmark Palestinian reconciliation accord agreed last month. / AFP PHOTO / Thomas COEX

WASHINGTON - The Trump administration on Thursday expressed support for the deployment of the Palestinian Authority's forces at Gaza's border crossings. A statement issued by Trump's special envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Jason Greenblatt, said that "the United States believes it is essential that the Palestinian Authority assume full responsibility for Gaza."

Greenblatt added that "any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognize the State of Israel, accept previous agreements and obligations between the parties - including to disarm terrorists - and commit to a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

The statement made clear that "if Hamas is to play any role in a Palestinian government, it must accept these basic requirements."

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The Palestinian Authority assumed full control of the border crossings between the Gaza Strip and Egypt on Wednesday morning in a handover that is considerd to be the first real test of the reconciliation agreement signed a few weeks ago in Cairo between the PA and Hamas.

The PA said in a statement that the Palestinian government in Ramallah, headed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, is now responsible for the border crossings. The next stage will be for Hamas to grant the PA full control of all the government ministries in Gaza, and at a later stage, the security forces will be unified.

Officials in Gaza said that Hamas will still be in charge of security at the crossings because the PA had not yet made arrangements to deploy its forces there. It cannot be ruled out that Hamas police officers will be part of the forces stationed at the crossings in future.

The opening of the Rafah border crossing is a very significant and symbolic move in the return of the PA to the Gaza Strip. Rafah has largely been kept closed by Egypt since 2007, when Hamas seized control of Gaza from the PA in a bloody coup. The crossing is usually opened only a few times a year, generally for humanitarian reasons. Egypt had in the past consistently maintained that the crossing would remain closed until forces loyal to the PA were present.

There are two crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip, however at present neither is manned by the Hamas administration.

Jack Khoury contributed background to this story