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Palestinian Authority government convenes in Gaza for first time since 2014

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah (C) chairs the first cabinet meeting held in Gaza since 2014 as moves intensify to end the decade-old rift between the main political factions
MOHAMMED ABED (POOL/AFP)
Abbas says will not accept Hezbollah-style arrangement in which Hamas keeps armed forces

The Palestinian Authority (PA) cabinet met in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday for the first time since 2014 in a further step towards the internationally recognized government taking control of the territory.

In an opening speech, Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah renewed his pledge to end a decade-long split between the Islamist Hamas movement that controls Gaza and his Fatah-led West Bank-based government, an AFP correspondent reported.

"We are here to turn the page on division, restore the national project to its correct direction and establish the (Palestinian) state," he said.

The session took place at the official Gaza residence of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in the cabinet office, hung with portraits of Abbas and historic Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

No Hamas officials were involved.

It was the first meeting of the cabinet in Gaza since November 2014, although Hamdallah visited a year later without his ministers.

The meeting comes as the Fatah faction, led by PA President Mahmoud Abbas, inches towards reconciliation with their Islamist rivals Hamas, who ousted them from the coastal enclave in 2007 in a near civil war.

(AP Photo/Prime Minister Office)

But skepticism that the two factions can implement a successful reconciliation remains rife, with particularly thorny issues such as future of Hamas's military wing yet to be resolved.

In an interview with Egypt's CBC news station late Monday, Abbas rejected outright any arrangement in which Hamas maintains its Iz al-Din al-Qassam brigades like Lebanon's Hezbollah militia.

"I won’t accept the reproduction of the Hezbollah experience in Lebanon," Abbas said, insisting on "full control" of all ministries, borders, and security affairs in the Strip.

Abbas said that while he has a "strong desire to see this reconciliation through," it would not beat fruit unless his Palestinian Authority oversees the administration of all of Gaza's affairs.

"The border crossings, security, and all the ministries must be under our control," Abbas repeated.

He added that without a unified Palestinian government, "there is no Palestinian state."

Hamas, however, says that the Iz al-Din al-Qassam brigades is not up for discussion.

(AP Photo/Adel Hana)

Hamdallah arrived in the Gaza Strip on Monday on a landmark visit and met with leaders of rival political movement Hamas, asserting that the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority would resume control of Gaza's government in the coming days.

The Islamists recently agreed to hand over civilian power to a unity government after Egyptian mediation and Hamdallah said they would get to work immediately.

For Gaza's two million residents, the hope is to see an improvement in their miserable living conditions in the overcrowded territory.

Hamas was squeezed by Abbas, who stopped paying Israel for electricity it supplies to Gaza, resulting in devastating power cuts.

Battered by three wars with Israel since 2008, Gaza is under Israeli and Egyptian blockade and suffers from severe water and electricity shortages, an economic slump and unemployment of more than 40 percent.

(AP Photo/Adel Hana)

Experts say the prospect of social unrest among disgruntled Gazans was a factor in Hamas's willingness to reconcile with Fatah, along with its growing isolation and perhaps a new pragmatism in its leadership.

The United States and the European Union see Hamas as a terrorist organization, complicating any potential involvement in a Palestinian government.

Washington gave a cautious welcome to the PA's return to Gaza, while stressing that any new Palestinian government would have to renounce violence and recognize Israel.

The UN also said it was "carefully optimistic" of ending the split, which is seen as a key complicating factor in potential peace talks with Israel.

The PA recognizes Israel, but that appears to remain out of the question for Hamas.

(Staff with AFP)

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