The Palestinian Authority prime minister held his first Cabinet meeting in Gaza on Tuesday as part of a major reconciliation effort to end the 10-year rift between the Fatah group and Gaza’s ruling Hamas Islamic terrorists.
The 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 Palestinian government.
Tuesday’s meeting in Gaza took place at the residence of Palestinian leader 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 Palestinian officials to a hero’s welcome from about 2,000 people.
“The only way to statehood is through unity,” 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-Sisi, who brokered the reconciliation effort, were featured outside 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 el-Sisi. It would mark the highest ranking Egyptian official to visit Gaza since 2007.
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 Yehudah and Shomron.
While previous reconciliation attempts have failed, years of international isolation and steadily worsening conditions in Gaza have pushed Hamas toward compromise.
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.