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Tuesday 17 October 2017

Palestine's cabinet meeting held in Gaza amid reconciliation efforts

Library picture of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas
Library picture of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas

Palestine's prime minister has held his first cabinet meeting in Gaza.

The move came as part of a major reconciliation effort to end the 10-year rift between his Fatah group and Gaza's ruling Hamas Islamic militants.

Tuesday's session was made possible after Hamas, in a significant concession, agreed last month to turn over all governing responsibilities to Rami Hamdallah, the premier of the West Bank-based Palestinian government.

Tuesday's meeting in Gaza took place at the residence of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.

It marks the first step in the most ambitious attempt at reconciliation since Hamas seized power of the coastal strip in 2007.

The Palestinian premier arrived in Gaza on Monday with armed guards and an entourage of West Bank officials to a hero's welcome from about 2,000 people.

"The only way to statehood is through unity," Mr Hamdallah told the crowd.

"We are coming to Gaza again to deepen the reconciliation and end the split."

He also said the reconciliation will require "hard efforts, time, patience, and wisdom".

Huge posters of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who brokered the reconciliation effort, were featured outside Mr Abbas' residence as Hamas policemen were deployed all around.

Egyptian intelligence chief Khaled Fawzy was set to visit Gaza later on Tuesday for meetings with both sides and carrying a letter from Mr el-Sissi.

It would mark the highest ranking Egyptian official to visit Gaza since 2007.

Hamas ousted the Fatah-led forces of the internationally recognised Palestinian Authority in the summer of 2007, leaving the Palestinians torn between rival governments on opposite sides of Israel.

Hamas has ruled Gaza, while Mr Abbas' party has controlled autonomous enclaves in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Mr Abbas seeks both territories, along with east Jerusalem, for a Palestinian state, and the division is a major obstacle to any possible peace deal.

Israel captured all three areas in the 1967 Mideast war, although it withdrew from Gaza in 2005.

While previous reconciliation attempts have failed, years of international isolation and steadily worsening conditions in Gaza have pushed Hamas toward compromise.

Mr Hamdallah's ministers are expected to begin taking over government ministries after Tuesday's meeting, with negotiations in Cairo on more difficult issues in the coming weeks.

AP

Press Association

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