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Hamas Agrees to Conditions for Reconciliation With Fatah Party

17 Sep 2017 9:54 am
By Abu Bakr Bashir in Gaza City and Rory Jones in Tel Aviv 

Militant group Hamas said it agreed to conditions demanded by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for reconciliation with his Fatah party, a move aimed at mending a decadelong rift between the two dominant Palestinian factions.

Hamas, which rules the impoverished Gaza Strip, said Sunday it would endorse national elections in the West Bank and Gaza, and allow the Palestinian Authority to administer the strip. Mr. Abbas, whose government helps fund Gaza's economy, has for months financially pressured the group to cede control.

Reconciliation would mark a significant step forward for the Palestinian national movement, which has been at a stalemate since 2007, when Hamas took control of Gaza after an armed conflict. But such a rapprochement is likely to face significant obstacles.

Mr. Abbas and Hamas's leadership have repeatedly spoken about a national government in the Palestinian territories comprised of both factions, but have failed to implement such an agreement. Hamas made no mention in its statement of handing over security of the strip to the Authority, a key demand by Mr. Abbas's government in mending the rift.

Hamas's new leadership in recent weeks has said it is eager to work with Iran, which vows Israel's destruction, and restore ties with Palestinian politician Mohammed Dahlan, a former ally-turned-enemy of Mr. Abbas that is backed by the United Arab Emirates and lives in Abu Dhabi. Mr. Abbas is unlikely to want to work with either of those parties.

A spokesman for the Palestinian Authority couldn't immediately be reached for comment on Sunday's announcement.

U.S. President Donald Trump has earmarked Israeli-Palestinian peace as a key foreign policy goal, but won't negotiate directly with Hamas over the fate of Gaza. The group is considered a terrorist organization by both the U.S. and Israel.

Egypt has tried to broker a deal between the two sides, and Fatah and Hamas officials have in recent weeks made separate visits to Cairo.

The Fatah-led Authority until April directed roughly a third of its annual budget to Gaza. But Mr. Abbas has in recent months increased the financial pressure on Hamas to cede control of the strip, cutting salaries of teachers and doctors in Gaza and refusing to pay for a large portion of the electricity Israel supplies to the strip.

Hamas also faces further financial and political pressure after its main benefactor, Qatar, in June became subject to an economic blockade by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the U.A.E. over alleged support for terrorist groups in the Middle East. Qatar has denied the claims.

Fearing Qatar will cut funding to the strip, Hamas has turned to Egypt for fuel to power Gaza and asked it to open up the major crossing into the strip from the Egyptian the Sinai Peninsula for supplies. Israel and Egypt largely control movement of goods and people into the strip, a dynamic that has helped weaken Hamas's economic and political standing at home.

Mr. Abbas, meanwhile, is trying to reassert his authority as his popularity dwindles among Palestinians. In 10 years in power, he has failed to achieve Palestinian statehood, or hold presidential or parliamentary elections.

Mr. Abbas and Mr. Trump are expected to meet and discuss solutions to peace Wednesday at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Palestinian officials are frustrated with the U.S. administration's failure to back the notion of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The White House's February decision not to commit to a Palestinian state in the rough boundaries of the West Bank and Gaza Strip reversed decades of U.S. policy on the issue.

Write to Rory Jones at rory.jones@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

September 17, 2017 05:54 ET (09:54 GMT)

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