Palestinian Authority lifts ban on Hamas daily

After unity pact, Felesteen newspaper distributed in West Bank, East Jerusalem for the first time in 7 years

Palestinian men read the Hamas-affiliated newspaper Falastin (Palestine) in a street of the West Bank town of Hebron on May 10, 2014. (photo credit: Hazem Bader/AFP)
Palestinian men read the Hamas-affiliated newspaper Falastin (Palestine) in a street of the West Bank town of Hebron on May 10, 2014. (photo credit: Hazem Bader/AFP)

Barely two weeks after Hamas and Fatah leaders in Gaza and the West Bank signed a reconciliation deal, the Hamas daily newspaper was distributed in the West Bank and East Jerusalem for the first time in seven years.

The Palestinian Authority government in Ramallah approved the distribution of Felesteen as part of efforts to promote unity between the two Palestinian factions, Hamas media reported Saturday.

The move followed a decision by the Hamas government in Gaza to allow three newspapers published in the Palestinian Authority to be distributed in the coastal territory.

The return of one of those three, the independent Al-Quds daily, generated excitement in Gaza City this week, and all 1,500 copies that were delivered Wednesday quickly sold out.

“Al-Quds is back!” shouted Nabil Baker, a 42-year-old newspaper vendor, as he drove his bike through the streets, selling copies.

While devoted readers had followed Al-Quds online, he said there was something different about reading and touching the hard copy. “The readers like Al-Quds more than any other paper. They are yearning to read it again,” he said.

The Palestinian split goes back to 2007 when the Islamic terrorist group Hamas seized control of Gaza after routing the rival forces of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Abbas’s Palestinian Authority, dominated by his Fatah movement, now governs parts of the West Bank.

After repeated attempts at reconciliation, the rival governments signed a unity pact last month calling for the two sides to form a unity government in June, and then hold new elections by the end of the year.

Like the US and many other countries, Israel considers Hamas, which has killed hundreds of Israelis over the past two decades, a terrorist organization and says it will not negotiate with any Palestinian government that includes the Islamic group. The latest round of US-brokered peace talks collapsed last month over the issue.

On Monday, Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal held a rare meeting in the Gulf nation of Qatar where they agreed to move forward with the reconciliation deal.

Hamas’s agreed to permit the distribution of Al-Quds was the latest in a series of small gestures by the sides toward implementing their deal.

Hamas banned Al-Quds, which is published in Jerusalem but is the West Bank’s most widely circulated newspaper, in 2008 after it printed a claim that Hamas was behind a deadly Gaza explosion.

The Fatah-dominated West Bank government had banned Gaza newspapers since Hamas wrested control of Gaza in 2007.

Ihab Ghussein, the Hamas government spokesman, called Wednesday’s gesture a “new initiative in support of Palestinian reconciliation.”

Rafeq Abdel Fatah, a 64-year-old tailor, said it was like a dream to see copies of Al-Quds. “You know the feeling you have when you are familiar with something for 30 years and forced to stop doing it every morning?” he asked. “This is the case with my newspaper.”

“I hope all good things come back again, not only the newspaper but everything we missed during the past seven years of division,” he said.

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