Palestinian reconciliation hits ‘obstacles’ on deadline, Fatah says

Official hopes for swift implementation of handover of power in Gaza from Hamas to PA so Palestinians will feel politicians ‘are honest’

Palestinians wave the national flag during a demonstration in Gaza City on December 3, 2017, in support of the reconciliation talks between Hamas and Fatah. (AFP/Mohammed Abed)
Palestinians wave the national flag during a demonstration in Gaza City on December 3, 2017, in support of the reconciliation talks between Hamas and Fatah. (AFP/Mohammed Abed)

RAMALLAH, West Bank — A planned handover of power in Gaza from Hamas to the Palestinian Authority under a landmark reconciliation accord hit “obstacles” on Sunday’s deadline to do so, a top official said.

The Hamas terrorist group was originally due to transfer power in the enclave on December 1 under the reconciliation agreement with rival faction Fatah, but that deadline was initially put back by 10 days.

Hamas said at the weekend that it was handing over all government ministries to the Palestinian Authority, but Fatah’s top negotiator said that was not yet the case.

“There have been obstacles today,” Azzam al-Ahmad said in a statement on Sunday published on official news agency WAFA.

“I hope they will be resolved before this evening so our people will feel that their national factions are honest with what they agreed on and pledged.”

Ahmad said that after the handover takes place, a meeting would be held in Cairo — Egypt mediated the reconciliation deal — to discuss next steps.

The reconciliation deal reached in October is aimed at ending the 10-year feud between Hamas and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah, based in the West Bank.

Fatah’s Azzam al-Ahmad, right, and Saleh al-Arouri of Hamas shake hands after signing a reconciliation deal in Cairo, on October 12, 2017, as the two rival Palestinian movements ended their decade-long split following negotiations overseen by Egypt. (AFP/Khaled Desouki)

The handover would end Hamas’s long dominance of the blockaded Gaza Strip, and has raised hopes that deteriorating humanitarian conditions in the territory could be addressed.

The Gaza Strip has been blockaded by Israel for a decade, while its only other land border — with Egypt — has also been largely sealed in recent years. Israel maintains the blockade is necessary to prevent the smuggling of weapons that could be used in attacks on the Jewish state. Hamas, which seized control of the Strip in 2007, seeks to destroy Israel.

In addition, Abbas has imposed a string of punitive measures against Gaza, where basic infrastructure for its two million residents is severely lacking. Residents receive only a few hours of electricity per day, and UN officials have said the densely populated and impoverished territory is becoming rapidly unlivable.

The PA, was scheduled to take over control of Gaza by December 1 under the landmark unity deal, but the deadline passed with the two factions accusing each other of not respecting the accord.

A range of complex issues remains to be resolved, including security control of Gaza and the fate of two separate civil administrations.

Unrest over US President Donald Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has further complicated the process.

Clashes and protests have erupted in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza since Trump’s declaration on Wednesday.

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