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Hamas hands Yasser Arafat's Gaza house to Fatah

Both parties describe the handover as a positive step for government unity
Palestinian politicians gather at the house of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Gaza City on Tuesday (AA)

On the eve of the 11th anniversary of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's death, Hamas handed over his Gaza residence and personal effects to the Palestine Liberation Organisation on Tuesday evening.

Officials in attendance said that the ceremonial transfer was as conciliatory gesture by Hamas, which does not belong to the PLO and rejects its policy of seeking peace with Israel.

Hamas has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007 when the group forced out Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah movement, which dominates the PLO, after the latter's failed coup attempt.

"Today our brothers in Hamas gave us the home of the symbol of the Palestinian people Yasser Arafat and we hope it will be a step towards ending the division" between the groups, said Zakaria al-Agha, an influential member of the Fatah Central Committee.

Among personal belongings also ceded to the PLO were Arafat's gun, items of clothing and photographs.

The house, near the Gaza City fishing port, is where Arafat, popularly known as Abu Ammar, settled with his family after years in exile on their return to the Palestinian territories in 1994, under interim peace accords with Israel.

"Abu Ammar was the symbol of national unity, the only weapon we have with which to confront the (Israeli) occupier," Agha told AFP.

Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri said that his party handed the house over to the Yasser Arafat Foundation following the official approval of Arafat's widow, Suha. The house will reportedly be turned into a museum of Arafat's life. 

Abu Zuhri called the move a "national and positive signal that should be built on to achieve the national unity, which the Palestinian people need the most in this time".

In the past, Hamas has prevented Fatah from holding commemorative events in Gaza to mark Arafat's mysterious death at a hospital near Paris in 2004. Arafat was 75.

Last year, at least 10 explosions hit houses and cars belonging to senior Fatah members in Gaza days ahead of planned memorial ceremonies.

Fatah cancelled the events, with Abbas accusing Hamas of seeking to destroy reconciliation attempts with the blasts, which caused no injuries.

"This is a milestone on the road to the unity of our people," said senior Hamas official Ghazi Hammad of Tuesday's house handover.