Category: Historic Land of Palestine


November 27, 2017

Israeli officials are in disagreement over a plan to cut off Palestinians in Jerusalem by installing a separate municipality for the city’s non-Jewish residents.

The plan to cut off Palestinian neighborhoods located behind the illegal Separation Wall is being promoted by Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Minister Ze’ev Elkin. He suggested that the establishment of a separate municipal entity to govern these areas would enable Israel to tackle the demographic threat posed by Jerusalem’s non-Jewish communities.
Elkin, according to the Jerusalem Post, holds the view that these neighborhoods are wide open to the West Bank but are still a part of the capital and attract non-Israeli Palestinians – which leads to mixed marriages – it poses a demographic challenge for the Jewish majority in the city.
Israeli sources also reported that a plan advanced by Elkin to separate East Jerusalem neighborhoods located beyond the security barrier has gained steam and moved from the legislative phase to the planning phase. It is likely to create another layer of discrimination against Palestinians and could see as many as 150,000 people living under a two-tier system with many services and provisions denied to the non-Jewish residents of Jerusalem.
Israel already has a number of laws that entrench racial segregation in the country. For example Israeli courts granted legal legitimacy to Jewish only Admissions Committees to be able to reject persons residing in an area based on nationality and race. More than 434 small communities in rural towns with control over 43 per cent of residential areas can reject Palestinian citizens of Israel and other marginalized groups from residing in them on the basis that they are “unsuitable” for Jewish communities.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat has opposed the plan, opting instead to give his backing for a plan that would seek to attract more settlers in the occupied city instead of separating Jerusalem due to concerns over the demographic threat posed by Palestinians.
Elkin appears to prefer a more immediate solution, although he too suggested last week plans for a million more settlers to be moved into the West Bank. The Israeli minster further dismissed the idea of a Palestinian state in the occupied Palestinian territory, while giving his backing for the plan saying that “there is no other option but the state of Israel, certainly between the Jordan [River] to the [Mediterranean] sea there will be one state.”
Elkin’s proposal appears identical to Tel Aviv’s creation of two separate municipalities in Occupied Hebron in September. The decision, according to critics “formalizes the system of apartheid in the city and could potentially lead to new projects and budget transfers to the Hebron settlers.”
Source: Middle East Monitor.
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2017-11-11

GAZA CITY – Tens of thousands of Palestinians gathered in Gaza on Saturday to commemorate the death of veteran leader Yasser Arafat in the first such memorial in the Hamas-run territory since 2007.

The anniversary event was billed as a show of national unity after the Islamists of Hamas struck a reconciliation agreement last month with the rival Fatah movement founded and led by Arafat until his death in 2004.

The deal, which is supposed to see Hamas cede civil control of Gaza to the Palestinian Authority led by current Fatah leader Mahmud Abbas by December 1, could end years of bitter division between the rival factions.

Tens of thousands of people from across the Gaza Strip poured into Saraya Square in Gaza City from early morning, hours before the keynote speeches were due to be delivered.

Organizers said more than 100,000 people were in attendance.

Participants waved Palestinian flags and placards calling for unity, as well as pictures of both Arafat and Abbas.

In a pre-recorded speech broadcast on large screens, Abbas, who has not visited Gaza since his allies were thrown out by Hamas in 2007, hailed his predecessor’s legacy.

“Our Palestinian people, who have always loved you as a great leader, still have that love, respect and loyalty.”

Abbas said the Palestinians were pushing ahead to seal reconciliation and to achieve Arafat’s “dream… for freedom, sovereignty and independence on our Palestinian national soil”.

“There is no state in Gaza and there is no state without Gaza,” he said, stressing that the Palestinian people were “united” and “refuse divisions”.

Gaza is waiting

Participants at the rally also said the event underlined the need, now more than ever, for Palestinians to unite.

“Today is a day for loyalty, unity and reconciliation. We say to the president and the government: Your sons in Fatah are waiting for your support of Gaza,” said 20-year-old Shukri Antar.

Rania Barbekh, 50, who was carrying a Fatah flag and a picture of Abbas, said she and her son had arrived at the square at 7 am from their home in Khan Yunis in the south of the Gaza Strip.

“We are all with Abu Ammar,” she said, referring to Arafat by his Arabic nickname. “From this festival, we want Fatah and Hamas to unite against the enemy.”

Hamas seized control of Gaza in a near civil war with Fatah in 2007 amid bitter recriminations over the Islamists’ landslide victory in parliamentary elections the previous year.

The last commemoration in the territory of Arafat’s death was held just months afterwards and ended in clashes between the rival factions.

Fatah has held other events in Gaza since 2007, including a major celebration in 2013, but Hamas has often suppressed its activities.

On Thursday, several thousand people attended a smaller Arafat anniversary event in Gaza organised by Fatah.

On Friday, hundreds of people took part in a “national unity marathon” organised by the Palestine Athletic Federation to support reconciliation between the rival factions.

Tawfiq Abu Naim, head of Hamas’s internal security forces in Gaza, said he had instructed them to protect and support Saturday’s commemoration, which he described as a “festival of unity”.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=85886.

2017-11-01

RAFAH – Hamas handed over control of the Gaza Strip’s border with Egypt to the Palestinian Authority on Wednesday, an AFP journalist said, in a first key test of a Palestinian reconciliation accord agreed last month.

Nazmi Muhanna, the Palestinian Authority’s top official for border crossings, formally received control of the Rafah crossing with Egypt from his Hamas counterpart.

At a separate checkpoint with Israel, an AFP photographer also saw Hamas installations being dismantled.

At the Rafah crossing, Palestinian and Egyptian flags were flying, with large pictures of Palestinian Authority president Mahmud Abbas and Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Hisham Adwan, director of information at the Hamas crossings authority, said that Palestinian Authority employees would resume full control of the border.

Under the Egyptian-brokered deal, the Palestinian Authority is due to take full control of Gaza by December 1.

The checkpoints had been due to be handed over by November 1 and were seen as a first key test of the strength of the reconciliation agreement.

Hamas has ruled Gaza since 2007 when the Islamists seized control in a near civil war with Abbas’s Fatah, based in the occupied West Bank.

A number of issues, including the future of Hamas’ vast military wing, remain uncertain.

Multiple previous reconciliation agreements have collapsed.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=85704.

13.10.2017

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has criticized a landmark reconciliation agreement hammered out this week in Cairo between rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas, claiming the deal would “make it harder to achieve peace”.

“Israel opposes any [Palestinian national] reconciliation in which the terrorist organization Hamas does not disarm and end its war to destroy Israel,” Netanyahu declared late Thursday on his official Facebook page.

“Reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas makes peace much harder to achieve; it is part of the problem, not part of the solution,” he said.

Naftali Bennett, Israel’s hardline education minister, also blasted the deal, saying: “The Palestinians today [Thursday] decided to form a terror government.”

He went on to assert that, by partnering with Hamas, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas — who serves as chairman of both Fatah and the Palestinian Authority (PA) — “turns the PA into a terror authority”.

“Israel must sever any connection to this terror authority,” Bennet said in a statement carried by the Times of Israel news website. “From now, any Israeli cooperation with Abbas is cooperation with Hamas.”

He added: “This must be said ahead of expected international pressure to resume [Israel-Palestine] negotiations in light of the Palestinian agreement.”

Israeli Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz also slammed the reconciliation deal, describing it as “a convenient cover for Hamas to continue its… activity as a terror organization while relinquishing civilian responsibility for the Gaza Strip”.

On Thursday, Hamas and Fatah signed a landmark reconciliation agreement in Cairo aimed at ending ten years of deep inter-Palestinian political division.

Under the deal, the Ramallah-based Palestinian unity government will assume political and administrative responsibility for the Gaza Strip no later than Dec. 1.

The West Bank and the Gaza Strip have remained politically and administratively divided since 2007, when Hamas wrested control of the strip from Fatah following several days of bloody street fighting.

Hamas’s capture of Gaza in 2007 ended an earlier — if short-lived — unity government established after Hamas swept 2006 Palestinian legislative polls.

Source: Anadolu Agency.

Link: http://aa.com.tr/en/politics/israeli-pm-blasts-palestinian-reconciliation-agreement/934916.

By Saud Abu Ramadan and Fadwa Hodali

October 12, 2017

Rival Palestinian groups agreed on Thursday to end their decade-old rift, signing an Egyptian-brokered deal that will allow a unity government to resume control of the Gaza Strip and deploy forces to the border with Egypt within weeks.

Hamas, an embattled Islamist movement which had controlled Gaza since 2007, last week handed over most government functions to the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority, in a first step toward ending divisions that have complicated the Palestinian bid for statehood.

Under the accord struck in Cairo, the consensus government will formally take full administrative control of Gaza by Dec. 1, according to a statement issued after the talks. The two sides have been invited to return to the Egyptian capital for more negotiations on Nov. 21. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas ordered all state agencies to “restore the unity of the Palestinian people and institutions.”

In a joint news conference, chief Fatah negotiator Azzam al-Ahmad said the deal crucially would see the Palestinian Authority’s presidential guards deploy along the border between Gaza and Egypt by Nov. 1. If that leads to greater security, Egypt might be willing to permanently reopen the Rafah border crossing, one of the isolated coastal enclave’s few outlets to the world.

After initially shunning Hamas, the Egyptian government of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi sought its help in controlling the movement of militants and weapons through cross-border tunnels between Gaza and Egypt’s northern Sinai, where an Islamic State affiliate is fighting the Egyptian government — a conflict that has battered the Red Sea tourist industry.

Armed Wing

“The consensus government has to take full control in the Gaza Strip and carry out all its duties and functions in all aspects of life, running the crossing points either with Israel or with Egypt,” Fatah’s Al-Ahmad said.

There was no indication from either side, however, that any understanding had been reached on the fate of Hamas’ armed wing, a sticking point which could yet scupper reconciliation efforts. Hamas leaders have said they would not disarm as long as Israel occupies Palestinian land. Abbas has said he wants weapons to be under unified control.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week warned against any “bogus” unity bid that would threaten his country if Hamas is allowed to keep its guns. On Thursday, he said any Palestinian government must meet the conditions of the international Quartet behind peace efforts, including recognizing Israel and respecting past agreements. Israel will watch as the situation develops and will react accordingly, he said.

The willingness of Hamas to work with Fatah, which governs the Authority’s West Bank territories, comes amid desperation in Gaza, whose economy has been strangled for years by an Israeli and Egyptian blockade, the destruction of its underground smuggling tunnels and wars with Israel. The destitution deepened earlier this year when Abbas engineered a power shortage to put further pressure on Hamas, which is shunned as a terrorist group by Israel, the U.S. and European Union.

Israeli Assertions

Gaza, which sits on the Mediterranean coast and is fenced in by heavily-patrolled barriers on three sides bordering Israel and Egypt, has been a frequent battleground over the past decade, during which Hamas has fought three wars with Israel. Abbas has tried numerous times without success to repair the rift, in part to counter Israeli assertions that peace negotiations are pointless because he can’t ensure that any treaty will also hold in Gaza.

Previous efforts to reconcile have failed due to disagreements over the fate of the weapons held by Hamas, as well as control of borders and other key institutions. This time, Hamas has gone further in offering concessions to heal the rift. As well as offering help to secure the border with Egypt, it has distanced itself from the Muslim Brotherhood, which former military chief El-Sisi removed from power in mid-2013.

Internationally isolated and with the economy in shreds, Hamas said last month it was ready to dismantle the administrative committee it set up earlier this year to run Gaza. Abbas viewed the panel as a shadow government and evidence of bad faith in the talks.

“We, in Hamas, are determined, serious and faithful this time,” Hamas negotiator Saleh Al-Arouri said at the news conference in Cairo. “This time is different to the previous times.”

— With assistance by Ahmed Feteha, Tarek El-Tablawy, Lin Noueihed, and Michael Arnold

Source: Bloomberg.

Link: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-12/palestinians-strike-gaza-unity-deal-after-marathon-cairo-talks.

2017-10-12

GAZA CITY – Rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah reached an agreement Thursday on ending a decade-long split following talks mediated by Egypt in Cairo, with president Mahmud Abbas calling it a “final” accord.

Details of the agreement have not yet been released and a press conference was being planned for Thursday afternoon in the Egyptian capital, where talks have been taking place since Tuesday.

Abbas welcomed the deal and said he considered it a “final agreement to end the division” — though many details remain to be resolved and previous reconciliation attempts have repeatedly failed.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniya’s office said in a statement, without giving further details, that “an agreement was reached today between Hamas and Fatah under Egyptian sponsorship.”

An official from Abbas’s Fatah movement said the Palestinian president was now planning to travel to the Gaza Strip within a month as part of the unity bid in what would be his first visit in a decade.

Sanctions taken by Abbas against Hamas-controlled Gaza will also soon be lifted, the Fatah official said.

The deal includes 3,000 members of the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority’s police force redeploying to Gaza, a member of the negotiating team said on condition of anonymity.

The figure is however a fraction of the more than 20,000 police officers employed separately by Hamas.

Another party to the negotiations, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the agreement would see Palestinian Authority forces take control of the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt.

He added that all Palestinian factions would begin wider negotiations on the formation of a unity government in the coming two weeks.

One of the key issues has been punitive measures taken by Abbas against Gaza in recent months, including reducing electricity payments that left the territory’s residents with only a few hours of power a day.

“All the measures taken recently will end very shortly,” Zakaria al-Agha, a senior Fatah leader in the Gaza Strip, said.

The two sides had been meeting in the Egyptian capital this week with the aim of ending the crippling decade-old split between the rival factions.

Hamas seized Gaza from Fatah in a near civil war in 2007 and the two factions have been at loggerheads ever since. Multiple previous reconciliation efforts have failed.

Egypt has been keen to improve security in the Sinai Peninsula which borders Gaza and where jihadist rebels have fought a long-running insurgency.

An Egyptian source close to the talks said intelligence chief Khaled Fawzi had followed the talks closely.

– Fate of armed wing –

Last month, Hamas agreed to cede civil power in Gaza to the Palestinian Authority but the fate of its vast military wing remains a significant issue for the two sides.

Islamist movement Hamas is blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by the United States and the European Union.

It has fought three wars with Israel since 2008 and the blockaded Gaza Strip has seen deteriorating humanitarian conditions.

Faced with increasing isolation and a severe electricity shortage, Hamas has reached out to Egypt for help, hoping to have the Rafah border opened.

The crossing has remained largely closed in recent years.

Egypt has also agreed to provide fuel to the Gaza Strip for electricity generation.

In return, Cairo pressed Hamas to move forward on reconciliation with Fatah.

Previous attempts at reconciliation have repeatedly failed, and many analysts are treating the latest bid with caution, waiting to see if actual change will occur on the ground.

Last week, Palestinian Authority prime minister Rami Hamdallah visited Gaza for the first time since 2015 and his ministers took formal control of government departments in the territory.

But the move was seen as mainly symbolic, with Hamas still effectively in charge in the Palestinian enclave of two million people bordered by Egypt, Israel and the Mediterranean Sea.

One of the key sticking points will be the fate of Hamas’s 25,000-strong military wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades.

Reconciliation could also pose a dilemma for international efforts to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal since Hamas has not recognized Israel, unlike the Abbas-led Palestine Liberation Organization.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=85354.

October 6, 2017

Some 29 individuals from around the world are wanted over their alleged involvement in terrorist activities that have led to the death of US citizens, America’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has announced. The names are included in the FBI’s latest “most wanted” list.

Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth reported yesterday that the list includes four Palestinians, most notably the Secretary General of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement, Ramadan Shallah. The Washington DC-based bureau is offering a $5 million reward to anyone who hands over Shallah, who is said to be responsible for “a series of murder, bombing, extortion and money laundering activities.”

The FBI list also includes 37-year old Palestinian prisoner Ahlam Al-Tamimi, who was accused of carrying out the so-called Sbarro restaurant suicide bombing in Jerusalem in 2001, as well as the killing of a number of Israeli settlers and two US citizens. The Palestinian leader and co-founder of the Islamic Jihad movement, Abdel Aziz Odeh, 67, is another of the FBI’s “most wanted”.

Seventy-one year old Hussein Al-Amri, who was born in Jaffa, is wanted by the FBI for his alleged participation in the Pan American Airline bombing on 11 August 1982. The bureau has also placed a $5 million reward for any information on his whereabouts.

At the top of the list of “most wanted” individuals is Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the leader of Al-Qaeda. The FBI reward for his capture stands at £25 million.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20171006-four-palestinians-on-fbis-most-wanted-list/.

October 5, 2017

Ramallah– Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah presented on Wednesday highlights of his government’s economic reform plan in the Gaza Strip.

“We have plans ready for action,” said Hamdallah, who remained in Gaza with a group of ministers following a Cabinet session on Tuesday.

“We hope we can invest in industrial areas and gas fields,” he stated, addressing a group of Gazan businessmen.

The prime minister was referring to his intention to reproduce the experience of the West Bank in the establishment of large industrial zones, which is still in its early stages, and to start extracting gas from the natural gas field off the coast of Gaza, which was discovered in 1998.

The Authority highlighted an initial agreement with foreign companies for gas extraction, hoping that the Gaza gas field would be one of the foundations of the Palestinian economy.

In addition, Hamdallah said that his government was looking to improve the business and investment environment in Gaza, to work on the land settlement and water purification projects and to complete infrastructure and sanitation plans.

The economic file will be one of the most important issues that the Palestinian government will have to deal with, in the wake of the high rates of unemployment and poverty, and the significant and dangerous economic decline witnessed over the last period.

According to a recent study, the Gaza Strip incurred losses worth $15 billion over the past ten years.

Hamdallah stressed that his government would work to improve the economic situation, despite the decline of foreign aid by more than 70 percent, the delivery of only 35.5 percent of aid, and with many countries not fulfilling their commitments to reconstruction in Gaza.

The prime minister, however, linked the ability of his government to implement its economic plans with the agreement between Fatah and Hamas on the reconciliation files in Cairo.

“We hope that reconciliation will be a lever for our efforts in this context, which will contribute to improving our economy and the living conditions of citizens,” he said.

Two delegations from Fatah and Hamas are expected to arrive next Monday in Cairo, upon an invitation by Egyptian Intelligence Chief Khalid Fawzi.

On Tuesday, Hamdallah presided over a Cabinet meeting in the Gaza Strip, in a move towards reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas parties.

Source: Asharq al-Awsat.

Link: https://english.aawsat.com/kifah-ziboun/news-middle-east/palestinian-government-sets-economic-reform-plan-gaza-strip.

GAZA CITY, Palestine

October 3, 2017

The Palestinian cabinet met in Gaza on Tuesday for the first time since 2014 in a further step towards the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority retaking control of the territory.

The meeting of the Fatah-led government, which is based in the occupied West Bank, comes as part of moves to end a decade-long split between the PA and the Hamas movement, which runs Gaza.

In an opening speech, Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah renewed his pledge to end the rift.

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

It was the first meeting of the cabinet in Gaza since November 2014, and comes a day after Hamdallah entered the territory for the first time since a unity government collapsed in June 2015.

On Monday, he met with senior Hamas figures, including leader Ismail Haniya.

After Tuesday’s cabinet meeting, government spokesman Yusuf Al Mahmud said ministers discussed the humanitarian situation in Gaza. No Hamas officials took part.

Mahmud warned that a full reconciliation deal would take time.

“The government does not have a magic wand,” he told reporters.

More than two million people live in impoverished Gaza, which has been blockaded by Israel and Egypt for years.

The sides will hold further talks next week in the Egyptian capital Cairo.

Punitive measures imposed by the PA against Hamas, including cutting electricity payments for Gaza, would remain in place pending the result of those talks, Mahmoud added.

Hamas called for the measures to be ended immediately as a show of good will.

“Our people look forward to practical steps to ease their suffering,” a statement said.

A main sticking point between the parties is whether tens of thousands of Hamas employees will be added to the PA’s already bloated government payroll. It is also unclear if Hamas will allow its militants to be replaced by PA security forces, especially at Gaza’s border crossings to Egypt.

Hamas has controlled Gaza since seizing it from the PA in a near civil war in 2007 after Hamas swept 2006 legislative polls that were ultimately rejected by Fatah, Israel and the international community. So far, multiple previous reconciliation attempts have failed.

Last month, Hamas announced they were willing to cede civilian control to the PA, following Egyptian pressure.

The United States and the European Union blacklist Hamas as a terrorist organization, complicating the formation of any potential unity government.

The head of Egyptian intelligence Khaled Fawzi is to visit Gaza later on Tuesday and meet with Hamas and PA officials, including Haniya.

‘Carefully optimistic’

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

Huge posters of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who brokered the reconciliation effort, were also featured outside Abbas’ residence.

Abbas himself remained in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Hamas security were on the roof of the building, while Palestinian Authority agents were deployed inside, an AFP correspondent reported.

“Today we are faced with a historic revival in which we are grappling with our wounds and elevating our unity,” Hamdallah said, reaffirming that there would be no Palestinian state without Gaza.

U.N. Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov said on Monday that he was “carefully optimistic” about the reconciliation talks.

“If the region stays engaged, if Egypt’s role continues and if the political parties themselves continue to show the willingness they are currently showing to work with us on this process, then it can succeed,” he told AFP.

In an interview on Monday night Abbas said that while the two sides “might have wronged each other and cursed each other, today we enter a new phase.”

A key issue is Hamas’s powerful military wing that has fought three wars with Israel since 2008. Hamas officials reject the possibility of dissolving it.

Abbas told Egypt’s CBC that there will be “one state, one system, one law and one weapon” — in an apparent reference to Hamas’s military wing.

He also warned Hamas could not “copy or clone Hezbollah’s experience in Lebanon,” referring to a situation where an independent armed group exerts major influence on national politics.

The United States cautiously welcomed Hamdallah’s visit, but White House special envoy Jason Greenblatt warned any Palestinian government “must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognition of the State of Israel, acceptance of previous agreements and obligations between the parties and peaceful negotiations.”

The Palestinian Authority has signed peace deals with Israel, but Hamas was not party to them and does not recognize Israel’s right to exist.

Source: Daily Sabah.

Link: https://www.dailysabah.com/mideast/2017/10/03/palestinian-cabinet-convenes-in-gaza-for-first-time-since-2014-amid-fatah-hamas-unity-talks.

October 02, 2017

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — The Palestinian prime minister traveled Monday to the Gaza Strip to launch an ambitious reconciliation effort with the rival Hamas militant group, receiving a hero’s welcome from thousands of people as the sides moved to end a bitter 10-year rift.

Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, representing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party, was joined by dozens of top officials, aides and security men on the trip from the West Bank through Israel and into Gaza to meet with the Hamas officials. It is by far the most ambitious attempt at reconciliation since Hamas seized power of the coastal strip in 2007.

The sides exchanged smiles, handshakes and pleasantries — a reflection of the changed climate that has ripened conditions for reconciliation after other failed attempts. But difficult negotiations lie ahead, and key sticking points, particularly who will control Hamas’ vast weapons arsenal, could easily derail the effort.

On Monday, at least, the two sides put aside their differences. Well-wishers surrounded Hamdallah’s car as it entered Gaza through the Israeli-controlled Erez border crossing, and dozens of Palestinian youths gathered alongside a barbed-wire fence to glimpse the welcoming ceremony. Some waved Palestinian or yellow Fatah flags, and many chanted Hamdallah’s name.

“The only way to statehood is through unity,” Hamdallah told the crowd of about 2,000. “We are coming to Gaza again to deepen the reconciliation and end the split.” Conditions in Gaza have deteriorated greatly in a decade of Hamas rule, and the feeling of hope by desperate residents was palpable Monday.

Thousands lined the streets to watch Hamdallah’s 30-vehicle convoy. The crowd forced the delegation to delay its first meeting at the home of the top Fatah official in Gaza and instead take a break at a beachside hotel.

Dozens of vehicles later returned to the Shejayeh neighborhood for the lunch. Hamas’ top leaders, Ismail Haniyeh and Yehiyeh Sinwar, said next to Hamdallah and West Bank security chief Majed Faraj. “This is a day of joy,” said Shaima Ahmed, 28, a women’s rights activist who covered her shoulders with a Palestinian kaffiyeh. “Yes it’s difficult and not easy to go forward, but we only have to be optimistic this time.”

Hamas ousted the Fatah-led forces of the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority in the summer of 2007, leaving the Palestinians torn between rival governments on opposite sides of Israel. Hamas has ruled Gaza, while Abbas’ party has controlled autonomous enclaves in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

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. In a significant concession, Hamas has offered to turn over all governing responsibilities to Hamdallah. His ministers are expected to begin taking over government ministries Tuesday, with negotiations in Cairo on more difficult issues in the coming weeks.

Hamdallah said the reconstruction of Gaza, which is still recovering from a 2014 war with Israel, would be a priority. “We realize that the road is still long and hard. We will be faced with obstacles and challenges, but our people are able to rise again from among destruction and suffering,” he said.

Several factors appear to be working in favor of reconciliation. Under Hamas’ watch, Gaza has fallen deeper into poverty, battered by a joint Israeli-Egyptian blockade and three devastating wars with Israel. Unemployment is estimated at over 40 percent, Gaza’s 2 million residents are virtually barred from traveling abroad, and residents have electricity for only a few hours a day.

Sinwar, Hamas’ newly elected leader, has expressed willingness to yield most power to Abbas, preferring to return to his group’s roots as an armed “resistance” movement battling Israel. The group’s leadership is based entirely in Gaza, meaning they no longer have to consult with exiled leaders spread across the Arab world to make difficult decisions.

And perhaps most critically, Hamas has improved relations with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. The former general took office after the military ousted then-President Mohammed Morsi in 2013.

Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, had close ties with Hamas, and el-Sissi has previously accused Hamas of cooperating with Islamic extremists in Egypt’s neighboring Sinai peninsula. But the sides have grown closer in recent months, with Hamas now providing security cooperation with Egypt and el-Sissi promising to ease the blockade.

Reflecting these improved ties, Egyptian envoys attended Monday’s ceremony, and posters of the Egyptian flag and el-Sissi were hoisted at major intersections. Egypt also maintains good ties with Israel and could potentially play an important role in selling a reconciliation deal to Israel, which considers Hamas a terrorist group.

Abbas also has much to gain. The 82-year-old Palestinian leader has said the rift with Gaza is his greatest regret. Regaining control of Gaza would help him burnish his legacy, especially after years of failure in peace efforts with Israel.

Still, many obstacles lie ahead. While Hamas is eager to give up its governing responsibilities, officials say the group will not give up its arsenal of thousands of rockets and mortars aimed at Israel.

Officials close to Abbas say he will not agree to allow Hamas to become like Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group that dominates its country’s politics. The sides will have to find a formula that not only is acceptable to them but which Israel would be willing to tolerate.

Israel has demanded that Hamas renounce violence and recognize its right to exist as part of any reconciliation deal. It also remains unclear what will happen to Hamas’ 40,000 civil servants, who were hired after Abbas forced his employees in Gaza to resign after the Hamas takeover. In an area with few jobs, both sides will likely want their loyalists to receive salaries.

Fatah spokesman Osama Qawasmi said the sides are up to the task. “We believe these issues are difficult, but with our will and patience, we can resolve them,” he said. In signs of good spirits, a family named their child born in Gaza Monday after the visiting Palestinian prime minister, and the official TV station of Abbas’ government broadcast its main news bulletin from Gaza for the first time in a decade since the Hamas takeover.

Donald Trump’s Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt said in a statement the U.S. “welcomes efforts to create the conditions for the Palestinian Authority to fully assume its responsibilities in Gaza.” It added that “any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognition of the state of Israel,” and should also accept previous agreements between the parties.

There was no immediate comment from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.