With America's blessing, Abbas signals a reconciliation with Hamas

MOHAMMED ABED

It urged "the parties" - the Palestinian Authority and Hamas - "to take concrete steps to reunite Gaza and the West Bank under the legitimate Palestinian Authority".

West Bank-based Palestinian prime minister Rami Hamdallah is to make his first visit to Gaza since 2015 on Monday, aiming to crown a rapprochement between the rivals after a decade of animosity and outbreaks of violence.

Landmark talks to end a decadelong rift between the two Palestinian factions and return control of the Hamas-ruled enclave to the authority hinge partly on the political and militant group agreeing to completely disarm.

Aita said that the "Palestinian government will hold its first weekly meeting in Gaza on Tuesday and afterward the ministers will hold team meetings in their Gaza offices that will be attended by ministry heads, who were all Hamas members until now, in order to insure the proper transfer of ministerial responsibility in these ministries".

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Previous attempts at reconciliation have failed, and there are hard obstacles which still stand in the way. Fatah, which runs the Palestinian Authority, has been responsible for administering areas of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned against any "bogus" unity bid that would threaten his country if Hamas is allowed to keep its guns.

Analysts said narrowing internal divisions could help Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas counter Israel's argument that it has no negotiating partner for peace.

One major issue which the PA and Hamas will have to negotiate is what the latter calls "armed resistance" - what Israel and many others would call terrorism.

Also helping to arrange the agreement were Egyptian President Abdel-Fatah el-Sisi, who wants Hamas' cooperation in deterring attacks on Egyptian soldiers in the northern Sinai peninsula bordering Gaza.

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Netanyahu said any move toward reconciliation must take into account recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, dismantlement of the Hamas military wing and a severance of diplomatic relations with Iran. While Hamas is eager to give up its governing responsibilities, officials say the group will not give up its formidable arsenal of thousands of rockets and mortars aimed at Israel.

"Now it is time to work because the only beneficiary of divisions is the occupation forces", the Palestinian prime minister said, addressing the welcoming crowds. The Trump administration has stressed the importance of committing to nonviolence. But they also paved the way for a bitter showdown over worldwide demands that Hamas surrender its weapons and recognize Israel's right to exist as part of a peace agreement.

Abbas insists that Hamas is an Islamist movement, although Egypt would not have changed its position vis-a-vis Hamas had it not disavowed its links to the Muslim Brotherhood and rebranded itself.

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