Hamas hands control of Gaza’s borders to Palestinian Authority
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The Islamist movement Hamas on Wednesday handed control of its Gaza Strip borders with Egypt and Israel to its rival the Palestinian Authority (PA), in a major step towards implementing a landmark reconciliation deal agreed last month.
According to the deal, which aims to bring an end to the 10-year rift between the rival Palestinian groups, the PA will resume full control of the Gaza Strip by December 1. The transfer of the border crossings is seen as the deal’s first key test.
The Gaza Strip has been controlled by Hamas since 2007 after a year of deadly clashes between the Islamists and their secular rivals, the Fatah-dominated PA, which is based in the occupied West Bank. Hamas won parliamentary elections in January 2016.
Reopening of Rafah border hoped for mid-November
The handover of these border posts was at the heart of the negotiations between Egypt, the PA and Hamas that resulted in the reconciliation deal signed in Cairo on October 12.
Although the reopening of the crossings to Israel isn’t currently on the cards, the reopening of the Rafah crossing point, the main gateway for Gaza's two million people to travel abroad, is vital for Gaza’s population. The enclave’s residents have been living in worsening humanitarian conditions, cut off from the rest of the world, for a decade.
“What’s important, asides the handover of the Rafah crossing point, is its reopening, which is anxiously awaited by Gazans, whose lives and basic human rights – such as freedom of movement and circulation – rely on this border crossing,” Sabri Saidam, the Palestinian Authority’s Education Minister told FRANCE 24.
Thousands of Palestinians are hoping to leave the Gaza Strip to receive medical care, stock up on supplies, travel, study and visit relatives.
“The Palestinian Authority hopes that the Rafah crossing point will be opened by mid-November,” Saidam added. “But for that to happen, we are relying on co-operation from the Egyptian side, which we applaud for the decisive role that it has played in this agreement. We are waiting for them to propose a clear programme and agenda for the reopening.”
Egypt should ‘respect its side of the deal’
Cairo insisted that the Rafah crossing point be placed under the control of the PA.
Egypt has shuttered the Rafah border crossing for most of the past ten years, accusing Hamas of supporting jihadist rebels fighting a long-running insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula.
“A delegation of Egyptian intelligence officials arrived in Gaza and has been on the ground closely following and participating in the handover,” Saidam said. Palestinian and Egyptian flags were flying at the Rafah ceremony, alongside photos of Mahmoud Abbas and his counterpart, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
“The opening of this border crossing does not depend on the Palestinians but really on the Egyptians, who set the terms [of the deal],” Moustafa Saouaf, a political analyst in Gaza, told FRANCE 24. “Those [conditions] have been respected so it’s up to Cairo to respect its side of the deal.”
‘It’s all systems go’
The two Palestinian rivals will meet in Cairo before the end of the month to discuss the formation of a unity government.
Until now, Hamas – which has been weakened by the Saudi-led sanctions against Qatar – has shown itself willing to engage in the path towards reconciliation. “There’s a real determination to continue these efforts, which aim to make this reconciliation happen. Right now it’s all systems go,” Saouaf said.
Nonetheless, several issues – some of which are particularly sensitive – still need to be addressed. “We can’t say that all the issues have been resolved,” said Saidam. “To say so would be premature because important subjects remain to be discussed, starting with Gaza’s security.”
The two parties have put the key question of Hamas’s weaponry to one side. Abbas, like the Israeli government, wants to have it dismantled, as it risks undermining the attempt at reconciliation.