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Palestinian unity cabinet meets

October 9, 2014

The Palestinian unity government has held its first-ever meeting in the Gaza Strip. This came just days ahead of a donors' conference to raise funds for the territory, which was battered by a recent Israeli offensive.

Rami Hamdallah
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and 11 ministers crossed into the coastal territory through the Erez crossing on Thursday, where they were met by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of the Fatah party, as well as senior officials from the Islamist militant group Hamas.

They then toured the town of Beit Hanoun and the Shijaiyah district of Gaza City, both of which were badly damaged in Israel's summer offensive.

"What we have seen today is dreadful and painful, and it has become clear to us that the rebuilding (of Gaza) is at the top of our list of priorities," Prime Minister Hamdallah said after the visit.

The ministers from Gaza subsequently traveled to Abbas' former residence in Gaza City, where they were joined by five Gaza-based ministers. These had been unable to attend when the government of technocrats was sworn in during a ceremony held in the West Bank city of Ramallah in June, as Israel had prevented them from traveling there. The five ministers had been forced to take part in previous cabinet meetings, also held in Ramallah, via video conference.

"We are facing a humanitarian and moral duty to our people in Gaza," the prime minister said even before surveying the damage in the narrow coastal strip.

Seven years of division

"We have put the years of division behind us, and the most important priority of the government is to guarantee a return to normal life for Gazans and unity with the West Bank," he added.

The agreement to form a unity government, reached back in April, is aimed at ending the bitter seven-year split between Fatah and Hamas, which began when Hamas forcibly seized control of the territory in 2007.

Between then and the formation of the unity administration, Fatah had governed the West Bank, while Hamas, which is regarded by Israel as a terrorist organization, ruled Gaza, leading Israel to impose a blockade on the territory.

Thursday's meeting came three days ahead of an international donors' conference, which Abbas has said he hopes will generate $4 billion (3.14 billion euros) in aid to reconstruct the Gaza Strip. Tens of thousand of Gazans were left homeless after their homes were destroyed in this past summer's 50-day Israeli air and ground offensive aimed at stopping militant rocket fire on the Jewish state.

More than 2,100 Gazans, mostly civilians, were killed in the conflict, while 73 people, mainly soldiers, were killed on the Israeli side.

pfd/tj (AP, AFP)