For the first time since violent takeover, Hamas allows Fatah officials to return to Gaza

Second goodwill move in a week aims to create positive atmosphere to allow reconciliation

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Seventeen members of the Palestinian Fatah movement forced to flee the Gaza Strip in 2007 were allowed back on Monday, in a move Hamas considered an act of goodwill that will help set the stage for Palestinian reconciliation.

Hamas interior ministry spokesman Islam Shahwan said 10 Fatah members entered Gaza at noon Monday through the Rafah border crossing and were not questioned by Hamas. The other seven members will enter at a later stage, he said.

Over 100 men were killed and hundreds wounded in clashes between Hamas and Fatah in June 2007, ending in Hamas’s complete takeover of the Gaza Strip. At least two Fatah officials were thrown from the rooftops of high-rises and most party officials were forced out of Gaza.

Shahwan expressed hope that Hamas’s move would encourage the Palestinian Authority, dominated by Fatah, to reciprocate by ending political arrests of Hamas operatives in the West Bank.

On Sunday, a Hamas government spokesman, Ihab Ghosein, said the movement decided to allow all Fatah members back into Gaza in order to create a positive atmosphere and help end the Palestinian political divide between Gaza and the West Bank.

This was Hamas’s second goodwill move toward Fatah in a week. On November 25, the Hamas government decided to pardon Gaza citizens involved in lawsuits concerning the political divide with Fatah.

Fatah official Qaddura Fares confirmed to The Times of Israel that the atmosphere between Hamas and Fatah has improved recently, adding that Fatah should now respond in kind by releasing all Hamas and Islamic Jihad political prisoners held in West Bank prisons.

“There is nothing left of the Oslo Accords but security cooperation [with Israel] and the collection of taxes, which Israel is now stealing from us,” Fares told The Times of Israel. “Israel is grabbing us at a sensitive spot.”

Fares said that when negotiations are resumed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, individuals involved in terrorism should be arrested, but the arrests should not be based solely on their organizational affiliation as is the case today.

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