Palestinian negotiators from rival Hamas and Fatah factions signed a reconciliation deal on Thursday, ending a decade-long split following talks mediated by Egypt in Cairo, with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas calling it a “final” accord.
Under the agreement, the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority is to resume full control of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip by December 1, according to a statement from Egypt’s government.
Reports from Egypt Thursday, quoted by Israel Radio, said Hamas was not prepared to disarm. The Islamist terror group was said to have instead agreed, under the terms of the emerging reconciliation deal, that it would not use its weaponry unless a resort to force was approved by a joint panel. There was no immediate official confirmation of this.
The deal was signed in Cairo by new Hamas deputy leader Saleh al-Arouri and Azzam al-Ahmad, the head of the Fatah delegation for the talks, at the headquarters of Egypt’s intelligence service, which oversaw the negotiations.
Al-Ahmed told reporters after the ceremony that there has been “full agreement” to empower a national unity government to assume its full authorities in Gaza.
Abbas welcomed the deal in comments to AFP and said he considered it a “final agreement to end the division” — though many details remain to be resolved and previous reconciliation attempts have repeatedly failed.
Celebrations broke out in the Gaza Strip after the announcement of the deal, with residents waving flags of Egypt, Palestine, Fatah and Hamas.
Negotiations are now expected to be held on forming a unity government, with the various Palestinian political movements invited to another meeting in Cairo on November 21.
An official from Abbas’s Fatah movement said the Palestinian Authority president was planning to soon travel to the Gaza Strip as part of the unity bid in what would be his first visit in a decade.
Sanctions taken by Abbas against Hamas-controlled Gaza will also soon be lifted, the Fatah official said.
The deal includes 3,000 members of the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority’s police force redeploying to Gaza, a member of the negotiating team told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The figure is however a fraction of the more than 20,000 police officers employed separately by Hamas.
Another party to the negotiations, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the agreement would see Palestinian Authority forces take control of the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt.
One of the key issues has been punitive measures taken by Abbas against Gaza in recent months, including reducing electricity payments that left the territory’s residents with only a few hours of power a day.
“All the measures taken recently will end very shortly,” Zakaria al-Agha, a senior Fatah leader in the Gaza Strip, told AFP.
The two sides had been meeting in the Egyptian capital this week with the aim of ending the crippling decade-old split between the rival factions.
Hamas violently seized Gaza from Fatah in a coup in 2007 and the two factions have been at loggerheads ever since.
Following the ouster of the Palestinian Authority, Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on Gaza, arguing that it was meant to prevent Hamas, a terror group avowedly committed to the destruction of Israel, from importing weaponry into Gaza to use against Israel. In recent years, the IDF intercepted a number of civilian ships carrying weapons headed for Gaza.
Multiple previous Hamas-Fatah reconciliation efforts have failed.
Egypt has also been keen to improve security in the Sinai Peninsula which borders Gaza and where jihadist rebels have fought a long-running insurgency.
An Egyptian source close to the talks said intelligence chief Khaled Fawzi had followed the negotiations closely.
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 organization by Israel, 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 generation.
In return, Cairo pressed Hamas to move forward on reconciliation with Fatah.
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.
Last week, Palestinian Authority prime minister Rami Hamdallah visited Gaza for the first time since 2015 and his ministers took formal 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 Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades.
Reconciliation could also pose a dilemma for international efforts to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal since Hamas has not recognized Israel, and is vowed to its destruction, unlike the Abbas-led Palestine Liberation Organization.