Hamas leaders rejected demands to surrender the group’s weapons after it handed over most governing control in the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority, raising the prospect that unity efforts may fail again.
Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S., European Union and Israel, agreed to cede control of Gaza as funds from abroad dried up and Abbas imposed sanctions that reduced government salaries and cut electricity to three hours a day. The moves deepened the hardships facing the strip, which has been battered by an Israeli and Egyptian blockade and destructive wars with Israel.
The government is “ready to take complete responsibility and extend its full control over Gaza, without exceptions,” Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah said at the cabinet meeting. The cabinet members later went to the offices of each of their ministries to formally assume control from Hamas.
Leaders of Abbas’ Fatah party will meet with Hamas negotiators in Cairo next week to discuss security and other controversial matters that were deferred so the handover process could start, Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh said.
“The whole world is watching the efforts at achieving reconciliation between the leaders of the Palestinian people,” El-Sisi said in a recorded speech played during a meeting between his intelligence chief, Khaled Fawzi, and Hamdallah. “There is an opportunity for achieving peace in the region.”
El-Sisi sponsored the negotiations in part because he wants Hamas’s cooperation in deterring attacks on Egyptian soldiers in the northern Sinai peninsula bordering Gaza. Mohammed Dahlan, the former Palestinian security chief in Gaza and an Abbas rival, helped broker the deal with the other top Hamas chief, Yahya Sinwar, who grew up in the same refugee camp as Dahlan.
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 and thousands of Gazans have been killed. Palestinian militants have fired some 11,000 rockets into the Jewish state since Israel removed its soldiers and settlers from Gaza in 2005. Close to 100 Israelis have been killed and thousands injured.
The Palestinian cabinet’s initial work will focus on providing more electricity and water for Gaza’s 1.9 million residents and funding construction projects, spokesman Yousef al-Mahmoud said at a press conference.
Israel in the past has opposed any role in Palestinian government for Hamas, which achieved international notoriety in the 1990s by launching suicide bomb attacks in the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Netanyahu said that Palestinians must disband the Hamas military arm and sever the connection with Iran, which calls for the destruction of Israel, speaking in Maale Adumim, a West Bank settlement where the prime minister said thousands of new apartments will be built.
“We are not prepared to accept bogus reconciliations in which the Palestinian side apparently reconciles at the expense of our existence,” Netanyahu said. “We expect everyone who talks about a peace process to recognize the State of Israel.”