Palestinian rivals head to Cairo for reconciliation talks

Disarmament, recognizing Israel, salaries and border crossings likely to be sticking points in closed-door Fatah-Hamas meetings

Hamas's overall leader Ismail Haniya (L) and Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah are seen together at Haniya's office in Gaza City on October 3, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED ABED)
Hamas's overall leader Ismail Haniya (L) and Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah are seen together at Haniya's office in Gaza City on October 3, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED ABED)

GAZA CITY, Gaza (AFP) — Palestinian rivals Fatah and Hamas dispatched teams to Egypt on Monday for talks in a renewed push to end their decade-long split after a key breakthrough last week.

Senior figures in the Hamas terrorist movement and the secular Fatah party will meet in the Egyptian capital on Tuesday as they seek to end a division that has crippled Palestinian politics.

Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank-based Fatah of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas have been at odds since they fought a near civil war in 2007.

Senior Fatah figures attending the Cairo talks include intelligence chief Majed Faraj and Fayez Abu Eita, a party leader in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian official news agency Wafa said.

Newly appointed Hamas deputy leader Salah al-Aruri and the movement’s Gaza chief, Yahya Sinwar, will lead the Hamas delegation, a spokesman said in a statement.

Hamas’s leader in the Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar, waves as he arrives for a meeting with Palestinian prime minister and other officials in Gaza City, October 2, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)

“We will not go back to division in any way,” Sinwar said on Sunday night ahead of the trip.

Abbas and Hamas chief Ismail Haniya will not attend the talks, which will be held behind closed doors.

Hamas seized Gaza from Fatah in 2007 in clashes following a dispute over parliamentary elections won by the Islamist movement.

The split has complicated any potential peace negotiations with Israel.

Multiple attempts at reconciliation have since failed, but the recent Egyptian-headed push received a major boost last month when Hamas agreed to cede civilian power in Gaza.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah visited Gaza last week for the first time since 2015 and his ministers officially took control of government departments there.

Sticking points

But the Cairo talks will begin the difficult task of negotiating over key sticking points — notably Hamas’s 25,000-strong military wing.

Hamas has fought three wars with Israel since 2008 and does not recognize its existence, while Abbas and the Fatah-dominated Palestine Liberation Organization have recognized the country.

Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, and Israel has said it would reject any reconciliation agreement in which Hamas didn’t disarm.

A Palestinian shop owner displays national flags and a poster bearing the portraits Palestinian prime minister Rami Hamdallah and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on October 1, 2017, in Gaza City. (AFP PHOTO/MAHMUD HAMS)

Abbas has also warned he will not accept Hamas keeping its weapons, but Hamas officials have dismissed the idea of disarming, which analysts say would effectively mean the end of the movement.

Another key issue is a demand by the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority that Hamas hand it control of Gaza’s border crossings with Egypt and Israel.

A third question is the fate of tens of thousands of civil service employees Hamas has hired in the last decade.

A fourth key sticking point is a series of punitive measures Abbas has taken against Hamas in recent months, including cuts to electricity payments for Gaza.

Abbas wants his government to regain full control before reversing the measures, but Hamas wants them lifted immediately.

Two million people live in Gaza, an impoverished coastal territory blockaded by Israel and Egypt, which say the restrictions are in place to prevent weapons from reaching Hamas.

Faced with increasing isolation and deteriorating humanitarian conditions, Hamas has agreed to Egyptian demands to take steps toward reconciling with Fatah.

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