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Fatah and Hamas spar as reconciliation deadline nears

The Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt, photographed on November 1 2017 as it is handed over from Hamas to Palestinian Authority control
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Hamas is supposed to hand over power to Fatah in Gaza on Friday

The two leading Palestinian factions sparred Tuesday over the fate of tens of thousands of employees in Gaza ahead of a key deadline, the latest sign that a landmark reconciliation accord was faltering.

Under an agreement made last month, Islamist group Hamas is supposed to hand over power in Gaza to the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority (PA), dominated by the secular Fatah party, by Friday.

A key sticking point has been the fate of tens of thousands of PA employees who stopped working when Hamas seized Gaza in a 2007 quasi-civil war.

Hamas hired its own employees afterwards and the future of the two sets of staff is a key issue to resolve.

In a statement Tuesday the PA government based in the West Bank stressed the "necessity of all old employees returning to work," instructing ministers to arrange for the transition.

Hamas called the decision a "violation" of pre-existing agreements between the two sides.

The reconciliation agreement reached on October 12 said they would solve the issue of the employees by February 2018, but also said Hamas would hand over full control of Gaza by December 1.

Until February the Palestinian government is due to pay the salaries of the Hamas employees.

In recent weeks hopes for success have faded as the two sides have had a series of disagreements, including over the future of Hamas's armed wing.

A number of ministries have been handed over, but others still remain in Hamas's hands ahead of Friday's deadline.

There were nearly 60,000 Palestinian Authority employees in Gaza, of whom only around 13,000 continued working after Hamas took control, according to the United Nations.

Hamas has employed about 50,000 civil servants, according to the World Bank.

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