The Palestinian cabinet has met in Gaza in a further step toward reconciling with the Islamist Hamas movement. Palestinians have been suffering under political division since Hamas took control of the enclave in 2007.
Prime Minister Rami al-Hamdallah from the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority (PA) chaired his first meeting of the Palestinian cabinet in Gaza on Tuesday, as the mainstream Fatah party and Islamist group Hamas continue their move toward reconciliation after a decade-long split.
"We are here to turn the page on division, restore the national project to its correct direction and establish the (Palestinian) state," Hamdallah said in an opening speech.
It was the first meeting of the unity cabinet in Gaza since November 2014, and is a further step toward the internationally recognized PA retaking control of the territory from Hamas.
Hamas, considered a terrorist group by Israel and the West, seized the coastal enclave in 2007 amid fighting with Fatah forces loyal to PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
Since then, Hamas has fought devastating wars with neighboring Israel and overseen increasing poverty in the overcrowded territory as a result of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade.
An estimated 40 percent of the territory's 2 million residents are unemployed and have limited access to electricity and water.
The Islamist group agreed to the PA's return last month, disbanding its shadow government after Gaza's powerful neighbor, Egypt, together with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, imposed an economic boycott on its main sponsor, Qatar. The three Arab states have accused Qatar of supporting terrorism, charges Doha has denied.
The Palestinian unity goverment, formed in 2014, has previously failed to function in Gaza because of disputes between Hamas and Fatah over its responsibilities.
Hope for peace process?
Before the meeting, President Abbas told Egyptian TV station CBC that his sanctions on the enclave would be lifted after the unity government takes control.
"Everything must be in the hands of the Palestinian Authority; it must be the one to control the crossing points (in and out of Gaza)," he said.
Analysts say any narrowing of divisions on the Palestinian side could give Abbas a better hand to play against Israel in the stalled Middle East peace process, with Israel previously arguing that it lacked a unified Palestinian negotiating partner.
tj/rc (Reuters, AFP)