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PA, Egyptian officials make their way to Gaza ahead of reconciliation talks

Oct. 1, 2017 5:23 P.M. (Updated: Oct. 8, 2017 2:12 P.M.)
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh receives Egyptian delegation in Gaza (Source: Hamas official Twitter account)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Officials from the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA) started making their way to the Gaza Strip via the Israeli controlled Erez border crossing on Sunday, to pave the way for Hamas to handover its control over the territory to the Ramallah-based government.

An Egyptian security delegation headed by Hazem Khairat, Egypt's ambassador to Israel, also arrived to the besieged coastal enclave through Erez on Sunday afternoon, to monitor the reconciliation process. The delegation was later received by Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh.

PA Minister of Culture Ehab Bseiso, a native of Gaza, crossed into the territory with his team Sunday afternoon. Before he was sworn in as minister in December 2015, Bseiso served as a Ramallah-based PA spokesperson.

After being greeted by officials, Bseiso told reporters that "the national reconciliation government will overcome all obstacles toward unity."
Ehab Bseiso pictured in his office in Gaza

Spokesman for Gaza’s interior ministry Iyad Buzm said in a statement the Hamas-run security services in Gaza completed procedures to secure the arrival of PA ministers and their delegations, the majority expected to arrive on Monday -- their numbers expected to reach in the hundreds.

"We are looking forward to turn the page on (the political) division and achieve comprehensive national reconciliation that enhances the steadfastness of our people and preserves their rights," he said.

The Hamas-led interior ministry also said it released five "security detainees" on Sunday as a gesture toward reconciliation.

Buzm identified the five detainees as Shadi Mahdi Abu Obeid, Fadi Salah Masleh, Taher Ali Abu Armana, Muhammad Nasr al-Kharaz, and Ibrahim Ismail Matar, and say they had been detained over "issues related to acting against internal security."

On Tuesday, Hamdallah is scheduled to head the PA's weekly cabinet meeting in the enclave, and after the visit, delegations will head to Cairo to continue reconciliation discussions.

According to reports, PA security officials, including the presidential guard -- which is expected to take responsibility for managing Gaza’s border checkpoints with Israel and Egypt according to the potential reconciliation accord -- have also arrived in Gaza.

Saturday evening, Haniyeh released an official statement saying that, "The reconciliation is a will and a decision, to prevent Israel from swallowing up the West Bank and continuing its siege of the Gaza Strip.”

According to a translation of the statement from Israeli newspaper The Jerusalem Post, Haniyeh said, "We understand that the inner-Palestinian reconciliation process could be long, because of the setbacks along the way, and the fact that there are many issues that require brave decisions, but we are certain that we have started tearing down the wall of separation. We are in a situation of national, regional, and international changes in addition to the strong Egyptian backing which supports the end of the rift."

The Hamas leader pledged that dialogue with Egyptian officials will continue to effectively implement all the agreements, build a national joint government, and prepare for elections for the parliament and the presidency.

Meanwhile, London-based newspaper Al-Hayat reported over the weekend that PA President Mahmoud Abbas has stipulated three conditions for reconciliation: that Hamas dismantle its military wing, that there be no foreign involvement in the administration of the Gaza Strip, and that any money for restoration and development only be channeled through the Palestinian government.

Israeli news daily Haaretz cited “Palestinian officials” as saying these conditions were intended to block any involvement by former Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan or countries like Qatar.

Haaretz quoted deputy head of Hamas’ politburo Moussa Abu Marzouk as saying, in response to the reports, that Hamas’ military wing is not a subject of discussion with the PA. Its weapons, Abu Marzouk added, “are weapons intended for the defense of the Palestinian people, and as long as the Palestinian people are under occupation, the weapons will continue to be ready for any scenario.”

Hamas recently agreed to allow the national reconciliation government to operate in the Gaza Strip, possibly putting an end to a national split in the Palestinian government since a bloody conflict broke out after Hamas won a landslide victory in legislative elections in 2006.

Hamas said the decision came in response to recent diplomatic efforts by Egypt to reconcile the rival factions, while Abbas has been calling on Hamas to relinquish control of the small territory to the PA.

In recent months, the PA has been accused of deliberately sending the impoverished Gaza Strip further into a humanitarian catastrophe -- by slashing funding for Israeli fuel, medicine, and salaries for civil servants and former prisoners -- in order to pressure Hamas to give up control of Gaza.

After Hamas agreed to comply with Abbas' key demands, Hamas called on Abbas to cancel all punitive measures and put an end to carrying out “political arrests” in the occupied West Bank.
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