Move was agreed in Egyptian-mediated accord signed last month
Palestinian groups are taking steps to end decade-old rift
The Palestinian Authority retook control of Gaza’s border crossings from Hamas militants on Wednesday, a key step in an Egyptian-brokered reconciliation accord aimed at ending a decade-old rift that hampered the Palestinians’ bid for statehood.
Palestinian officials hailed the accord as a step that could bolster their efforts for an independent state, but analysts have pointed out that persisting disagreements over the fate of Hamas’ weapons could undermine the deal. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned against any “bogus” unity bid that would threaten Israel if Hamas, which Israel considers a terrorist organization, is allowed to keep its guns. Israeli forces on Tuesday destroyed a tunnel that Palestinians had dug beneath a section of the Gaza border, killing at least seven militants.
“Today is the first actual and practical step toward ending an internal Palestinian division that lasted for more than 10 years,” Mufid al-Hassayna, minister of housing and construction in the consensus government, told a news conference in Rafah.
Gaza, which sits on the Mediterranean coast and is fenced in by heavily-patrolled barriers on three sides bordering Israel and Egypt, has been a frequent battleground over the past decade, during which Hamas fought three wars with Israel.
The willingness of Hamas to work with Fatah, which governs the Palestinian Authority’s West Bank territories, comes amid deepening destitution in the strip after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas engineered a power shortage and financial squeeze in recent months.
Hassayna said that Rami Hamdallah, the prime minister of the unity government, would visit Gaza soon to announce an end to the punitive measures.
Palestinians have repeatedly sought to reconcile in the past, but those efforts failed due to disagreements over the fate of the weapons held by Hamas, as well as control of borders and other key institutions. This time, Hamas has gone further in making concessions to heal the rift. As well as offering help to secure the border with Egypt, it has distanced itself from the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt’s general-turned-president Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi removed from power in Cairo in mid-2013.
Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar said last week, however, that while the group was willing to hand over control of Gaza’s borders it would not give up its weapons altogether.
After initially shunning Hamas, Egypt last year began rebuilding ties with the Islamist group before embarking on talks to end to the Palestinian rift, part of El-Sisi’s wider effort to restore stability to northern Sinai and re-establish Egypt’s role as a regional power-broker.
El-Sisi’s government has sought Hamas’ help in controlling the movement of militants and weapons through cross-border tunnels between Gaza and Sinai, where an Islamic State affiliate is fighting Egyptian forces in a conflict that has battered the Red Sea tourist industry.
In return, Egypt has begun to open the Rafah crossing more regularly and allow a wider range of goods into the territory, whose economy has been strangled for years by an Israeli and Egyptian blockade and the destruction of smuggling tunnels.
Palestinians hope that a secure border area under the control of Palestinian Authority forces could lead to the permanent reopening of the Rafah crossing.
Originally posted on Bloomberg