The Palestinian Hamas group said on Sunday it was taking key steps to end a decade-old feud with President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement.
The Islamist group, which has ruled Gaza since a brief Palestinian civil war in 2007, said it had taken “a courageous, serious and patriotic decision to dissolve the administrative committee” that runs the territory of 2 million people, and hand power to some form of unity government. It added it was ready to hold general elections and enter talks with Fatah.
The announcement came after separate talks by Hamas and Fatah delegations with Egyptian intelligence officials in Cairo in recent days. The two parties did not meet at the talks, which took the form of shuttle-diplomacy with Egyptian officials mediating.
The Fatah-led government, based in the West Bank, hailed the move as “a step in the right direction”. Cairo’s efforts presented a “historic opportunity” that could lead to a new Palestinian election and ultimately statehood, a spokesman told the official news agency WAFA.
Repeated attempts at reconciliation have failed since Hamas drove forces loyal to Abbas from the Gaza Strip in 2007, a year after defeating Fatah in parliament elections. The takeover led to rival governments, with Hamas controlling Gaza and Abbas governing autonomous enclaves in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Hamas said in a statement it accepted Fatah’s key demands for ending the split. These include holding general elections in the West Bank and Gaza and allowing an Abbas-led “unity government” — formed in 2014 but until now unable to start operating in Gaza — to finally assume responsibility there.
Gaza soon ‘unlivable’
Hamas’s move comes at a time of great hardship in Gaza. The enclave, which over the past decade has suffered three wars with Israel, has been battered by an Israeli and Egyptian blockade, and seen its underground smuggling tunnels destroyed.
Egypt, which has kept its frontier with Gaza largely closed and accused the group in the past of aiding Islamist militants in Egypt’s Sinai desert, something Hamas denies.
Hoping to pressure Hamas to relinquish control, Abbas has also cut payments to Israel for the electricity it supplies to Gaza. As a result, residents typically have power for less than four hours a day, and coastal waters are polluted because sewage treatment plants don’t work.
The United Nations has sounded the alarm on the humanitarian crisis there, warning that Gaza may be “unlivable” by 2020.
A new page?
Fatah welcomed the pledge by its Hamas rival, but said it wants to see the promises implemented before making the next move.
Hamas and Fatah agreed in 2014 to form a national reconciliation government, but despite that agreement, Hamas’s shadow government has continued to rule the Gaza Strip.
Abbas, 82, has support from Western governments but is an unpopular leader among Palestinians, according to opinion polls. He has no clear successor and there are no steps being taken toward a presidential election any time soon.
Abbas leaves on Sunday for New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly. He is due to meet U.S. President Donald Trump there on Wednesday, before giving a speech at the UN on Thursday.
“All parties must seize this opportunity to restore unity and open a new page for the Palestinian people,” U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov said in a statement, adding that the U.N. was ready to assist the talks in order to alleviate hardship in Gaza.
Mladenov thanked Egypt for its “tireless efforts in creating this positive momentum.”