Hamas says deal reached with Palestinian rival Fatah

#Diplomacy

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh said that a deal had been reached between the rival factions at Cairo talks brokered by Egypt

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah (L) shakes hands with Hamas Chief Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza City October 2, 2017 (AFP)
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Thursday 12 October 2017 8:29 UTC
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Rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah have reached a deal over political reconciliation, Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh said in a statement on Thursday, without providing further details about the accord brokered by Egypt.

A Hamas official told Reuters that details are expected to be released at a noon news conference in Cairo, where unity talks between the rival factions began on Tuesday.

The Western-backed mainstream Fatah party lost control of Gaza to Hamas, considered a terrorist group by the West and Israel, in fighting in 2007. But last month Hamas agreed to cede powers in Gaza to President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah-backed government.

"Fatah and Hamas reached an agreement at dawn today upon a generous Egyptian sponsorship," Haniyeh said in a statement.

Egypt has helped mediate several attempts to reconcile the two movements and form a power-sharing unity government in Gaza and the West Bank. Hamas and Fatah agreed in 2014 to form a national reconciliation government, but despite that deal, Hamas's shadow government continued to rule the Gaza Strip.

"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.

Hamas agreed to hand administrative powers in Gaza to a Fatah-backed government last month. The move was a major reversal for Hamas, prompted partly by the group’s fears of potential financial and political isolation after its main donor Qatar suffered a major diplomatic crisis with key allies.

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.

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.

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. 

Fate of armed wing

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.

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

It has fought three wars with Israel since 2008 and the blockaded Gaza Strip has seen deteriorating humanitarian conditions.

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

The crossing has remained largely closed in recent years.

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

In return, Cairo has pressed Hamas to move forward on reconciliation with rival Fatah and the two sides have launched into the negotiations.

Previous attempts at reconciliation have repeatedly failed, and 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.

One of the key sticking points will be the fate of Hamas's 25,000-strong military wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades.

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