Fatah members are permitted to return to the Gaza Strip, the territory’s prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, announced on Monday in an unprecedented reconciliation gesture between the two warring Palestinian factions, AFP reported. Members of Fatah have been barred from the coastal enclave since 2007.
“The government will allow all Fatah members who are from Gaza and who left the Strip to return, without any preconditions,” Haniyeh said in a press conference at the Interior Ministry in Gaza City. The provision excludes those who murdered Hamas members in 2007, at the height of Hamas’s violent takeover of the Gaza Strip.
Haniyeh also said that Hamas will “release a small number of Fatah members who are imprisoned for security reasons.”
The West Bank-based Fatah’s MPs would also be allowed to visit Gaza, he said.
Reconciliation negotiations between Fatah and Hamas resumed secretly on Monday, according to the independent Palestinian news agency Ma’an.
“Our hearts are open and our hands are extended for national unity,” said Ahmad Assaf, a Fatah spokesman. He also said that contrary to rumors, the two parties have not reached an agreement to form a unity government as of yet, but hope to in the near future.
On December 17, reports emerged that a unity government was imminent. The relationship between Fatah and Hamas, longtime political rivals, took a drastic turn for the worse in 2006 after Hamas won parliamentary Palestinian elections and subsequently took over the Gaza Strip by force. Since then, attempts at reconciliation, including a Cairo-brokered agreement in 2011 and another agreement in 2012, did not lead to a unity government between the two parties.
Tensions between the two rival factions have intensified since the renewal of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. The latest attempt at reconciliation took place in Qatar at a conference headed by exiled former Israeli-Arab MK Azmi Bishara, on December 12.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report