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Middle East

Palestinian PM visits Gaza, moving to mend rift with Hamas

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 October, 2017, 12:06pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 October, 2017, 11:05pm

Palestinian prime minister Rami Hamdallah has visited Gaza for the first time in two years, in a potential first step to ending a decade-long conflict between the two major Palestinian factions.

Arriving in the impoverished enclave, Hamdallah said the internationally recognised Palestinian Authority would resume control of Gaza’s government in the coming days.

Hamdallah met with the leaders of rival political movement Hamas, 10 years after they violently forced his allies out of Gaza in a near civil war.

Washington gave a cautious welcome to the PA’s return to Gaza, while stressing that any new Palestinian government would have to renounce violence and recognise Israel.

“The United States welcomes efforts to create the conditions for the Palestinian Authority to fully assume its responsibilities in Gaza,” White House special envoy Jason Greenblatt wrote on his Facebook page.

“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,” he said.

The UN said it was “carefully optimistic” of ending the split which is seen as a key complicating factor in potential peace talks with Israel.

Hamdallah was welcomed by thousands of Gazans, with hopes that this reconciliation plan can avoid the problems that wrecked several previous attempts.

The Islamists recently agreed to hand over civilian power to a unity government after Egyptian mediation and Hamdallah said they would get to work immediately.

“The government began to exercise its roles in Gaza from today,” Hamdallah said.

“We return to Gaza again to end the division and achieve unity.”

Later he met with Hamas’s overall leader Ismail Haniya and its Gaza chief Yahya Sinwar, and is expected to chair a cabinet meeting.

Hamas ousted the PA in 2007, but recently agreed to dissolve what has been seen as its rival administration and make way for a unity government.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas’s PA is the internationally recognised Palestinian government and supposed to steer its people to an independent state.

The logistics of the three-day visit were themselves an indication of divisions and challenges.

Arriving by road from Ramallah, about 70km away in the West Bank, Hamdallah’s convoy crossed Israel and then transited the fortresslike Erez crossing into Gaza before passing a Hamas checkpoint.

Hamas last month finally agreed to the PA’s return to Gaza, under pressure from the enclave’s powerful neighbour Egypt.