UN chief congratulates Abbas on unity deal with Hamas

Guterres tells Palestinian leader the United Nations is ready to help the PA ‘take up its responsibilities in Gaza’

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres (L) is greeted by Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah (R) in the West Bank city of Ramallah on August 29, 2017. (AFP Photo/Abbas Momani)
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres (L) is greeted by Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah (R) in the West Bank city of Ramallah on August 29, 2017. (AFP Photo/Abbas Momani)

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres spoke to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to congratulate him on an agreement Thursday ending a decade-long split between Abbas’s Fatah movement and the Hamas terror group.

He told Abbas the United Nations “stands ready” to help the PA “take up its responsibilities in Gaza,” a UN statement said. Guterres also underlined the “continuing need to urgently address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, particularly with regard to the electricity crisis, and improved access to and from the territory.”

Earlier, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu strongly condemned the deal, saying it would make peace between Israel and the Palestinians “much harder to achieve.”

Under the agreement, the West Bank-based PA is to resume full control of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip by December 1, according to a statement from Egypt’s government.

Abbas welcomed the deal and told AFP he considered it a “final agreement to end the division” — though many details remain to be resolved and previous reconciliation attempts have repeatedly failed.

Israel says Islamist movement Hamas, with which it has fought three wars since 2008, must disarm and recognize the Jewish state as part of any Palestinian reconciliation deal.

“Reconciling with mass murderers is part of the problem, not part of the solution,” Netanyahu said in a statement.

The agreement was signed in Cairo by new Hamas deputy leader Salah al-Arouri and Azzam al-Ahmad, head of the Fatah delegation for the talks, at the headquarters of Egypt’s intelligence service, which oversaw the negotiations.

Talks are now expected to commence on forming a unity government, with the various Palestinian political movements invited to another meeting in Cairo on November 21.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters, September 20, 2017. (AP/Seth Wenig)

An official from Abbas’s Fatah movement said the PA president was planning to soon travel to the Gaza Strip as part of the unity bid, in what would be his first visit in at least a decade.

Sanctions taken by Abbas against Gaza will also soon be lifted, the Fatah official said.

Hamas seized Gaza from Fatah in a near civil war in 2007, and the two factions have been at loggerheads ever since.

Egypt has been keen to improve security in the Sinai Peninsula, which borders Gaza and where jihadist rebels have fought a long-running insurgency.

Previous attempts at reconciliation have repeatedly failed, and many analysts are treating the latest bid with caution, waiting to see if actual change will occur on the ground.

Last week, PA prime minister Rami Hamdallah visited Gaza for the first time since 2015 and his ministers took formal control of government departments in the territory.

But the move was seen as mainly symbolic, with Hamas still effectively in charge in the Palestinian enclave of two million people.

One of the key sticking points will be the fate of Hamas’s 25,000-strong military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades.

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