The Hamas terrorist group said early Sunday that it had accepted key conditions demanded by its rival, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, including nationwide elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, to clear the way for a reconciliation deal after a 10-year rift that has left the Palestinians divided.
In a statement issued overnight, Hamas said it was “responding to the generous Egyptian efforts, which reflect the Egyptian desire to end the split and achieve reconciliation, and based on our desire to achieve national unity.”
Hamas said it had dissolved the contentious Administrative Committee that runs Gaza, invited Abbas’s government to return to the Strip, and was ready to hold new elections.
The Palestinians have been split between two rival governments since 2007, when Hamas drove Abbas’s Fatah party forces out of the Gaza Strip, leaving the president in control only of autonomous areas of the West Bank. Repeated attempts at reconciliation have failed.
Hamas, however, has been greatly weakened by an Israeli and Egyptian blockade, three wars with Israel and international isolation. The Islamist terror group openly seeks the elimination of Israel, which maintains a security blockade to prevent Hamas from importing weaponry. Gaza’s economy is in tatters and residents of the territory have electricity for only a few hours a day.
The latest announcement came days after Hamas and Egyptian officials met in Cairo for reconciliation discussions. Abbas sent a delegation of representatives to Egypt as well.
Hamas officials have been in and out of Cairo frequently over recent months in an attempt to improve their ties with Egypt, a country with which the terror group has had a rocky relationship.
Despite Sunday’s announcement, however, any reconciliation deal faces many obstacles. The announcement did not say whether Hamas was prepared to place its security forces under Abbas’s control — a key sticking point that has scuttled past reconciliation attempts.
There also was no immediate comment from Abbas’s government in Ramallah, and it wasn’t clear how Egypt’s latest effort aligns with its previous tacit support for a different Gaza power-sharing deal between Hamas and Mohammed Dahlan, an exiled former aide to Abbas.
Egypt has long accused Hamas of aiding the brutal Islamic insurgency in its restive North Sinai region, but in recent months, Hamas has beefed up security along Gaza’s southern border with Egypt, seeking to assure Cairo that it is fighting Islamic State sympathizers.
In exchange, Egypt is supposed to alleviate its blockade of Gaza by opening the Rafah crossing — the only way in and out of Gaza except via Israel — as well as increase commercial ties with the Strip.
The Rafah crossing is infrequently opened, leaving the strict Israeli border as the only other option for Palestinians who want to enter or exit the Strip.
PA officials have said Egypt assured Ramallah it would not reopen the Rafah crossing until Abbas’s “legitimate authority” is restored at the border.