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Palestinian rivals Hamas, Fatah sign Gaza deal

by DECLAN WALSH The New York Times | October 13, 2017 at 2:59 a.m.

CAIRO -- Hamas and Fatah signed a reconciliation deal Thursday in Cairo that aims to end their decade-old rivalry by providing for a joint administration with control of Gaza's borders, including a key crossing point with Egypt, but that leaves thornier issues unresolved.

Under the agreement, which was brokered by Egyptian intelligence, Fatah will lift a series of punitive sanctions that it imposed on Hamas-controlled Gaza earlier this year.

In return, Hamas officials said they would allow the Palestinian Authority to resume control in Gaza. Egypt said a "government of national accord" would take effect by Dec. 1. Palestinian officials said that, if all went well, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas could visit Gaza within the coming month -- his first visit to the coastal strip in a decade.

The deal was seen as a significant step toward ending the civil war that has split Palestinians since violent clashes between Hamas and Fatah in 2007.

A previous agreement between Hamas and Fatah -- also signed in Cairo, in 2011 -- came to nothing. Palestinian officials said the deal reached Thursday enjoys a greater chance of success because it is backed by Saudi Arabia, the United States and, they believe, Israel.

Although he was not in Cairo, Abbas gave his blessing to the deal, which he hailed as a "final agreement."

"I welcome the agreement reached between the Fatah and Hamas movements in Cairo," he told Agence France-Presse, adding that he had given orders to sign it immediately.

Abbas has not visited Gaza, a tiny territory that is home to 2 million people, since Hamas ejected Fatah after a series of armed clashes.

Details of the deal reached in Cairo were initially unclear. Several Western news organizations were excluded from a brief signing ceremony at the headquarters of Egypt's General Intelligence Service, which brokered talks Tuesday and Wednesday that led to the agreement.

A video supplied by a Palestinian official showed the deputy leader of Hamas, Saleh al-Arouri, embracing Azzam al-Ahmad, the head of the Fatah delegation, after the signing.

Egypt's State Information Service issued an unsigned statement saying the two rivals had "agreed on procedures" for a reconciliation government that would take effect on Dec. 1. But the statement also acknowledged continuing "divisions" and said that Egypt would host another meeting on Nov. 21.

Ahmed Yousef, an adviser to the Hamas leader, Ismail Haniya, said the two sides had agreed to joint control over the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, a key lifeline for Gaza's residents.

Reacting to news reports, citing Fatah officials, that Fatah would take control of the crossing, he said, "We will discuss the possibility of allowing the presidential guard from the West Bank to control it."

Yousef said the two sides would convene committees to integrate their ministries into a reconciliation government. One major challenge, he said, would be to reduce the bloated, 200,000-strong Palestinian civil service, which he estimated needs to be cut by as much as 20 percent.

But, he added, the two sides had not discussed a number of critical questions, including a joint strategy for dealing with Israel, the conduct of any future elections and, crucially, the state of the Hamas military wing.

When leaders from Hamas and Fatah signed a similar deal in 2011, Abbas said, "We have turned the black page of division forever." But the deal quickly foundered as Israel opposed it, saying the agreement was a "victory for terrorism."

A Section on 10/13/2017

Print Headline: Palestinian rivals Hamas, Fatah sign Gaza deal

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