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Buoyed by unity deal, Abbas to visit Gaza in the next few weeks: Source

Khaled Fawzi (3rd-L) head of the Egyptian Intelligence services, shares a laugh with Hamas leader Izzat al-Rishq (2nd-L) and Fatah's Azzam al-Ahmad (C) following the signing of a reconciliation deal in Cairo on October 12, 2017, as the two rival Palestinian movements ended their decade-long split following negotiations overseen by Egypt. (AFP / KHALED DESOUKI)
AMMAN/GAZA/CAIRO: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will visit Gaza in the next few weeks, once all the arrangements for the return of power to the Ramallah-based government are complete, a senior Palestinian source told Arab News.
Abbas “will be in Gaza in less than a month,” Zakaria Al-Agha, a senior Fatah leader in Gaza, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) after a breakthrough in reconciliation talks in Cairo.
Saed Karim, head of the Palestinian Art Forum in Gaza, said people in the territory want real unity.
“We want a president for all Palestinians… not a leader for one group,” he told Arab News. “This means he needs to end his political career by treating all Palestinians the same way and without discrimination.”
Nida Marwan, an unemployed university graduate, said she hopes Abbas will put an end to Gaza’s plight.
“There are many who aren’t able to find work with either Hamas or Fatah, so they’re stepped on by all because they don’t belong to one group or the other,” she told Arab News.
Respected Gazan intellectual and author Juma Younis said before Abbas visits the territory, he needs to end all punitive measures against its people, especially regarding electricity and water. “People are tired of paying two authorities,” Younis told Arab News.
Ali Madi, a private-sector employee, told Arab News: “We want Abbas to open a new page with his people, especially those of us in Gaza, so we can forgive him for all the pain we suffered due to the siege. We hope he pays attention to the issues of heath, borders, reconstruction and unemployment.”
Hassan Douhan, a senior editor for Al-Hayat Al-Jadida daily, said Gazans are looking forward to the visit of Abbas as it will represent a new phase.
“The visit will have implications that affect the daily lives of our people. It will allow legitimacy and the rule of law,” Douhan told Arab News.
He expects Abbas to give “a historic talk to a huge crowd. People will be happy to be reunited with the legitimate government of the Palestinian Authority.”
Radi Al-Mileh, a photographer with the official Palestinian news agency WAFA, told Arab News: “Abbas is the leader of all Palestinians, so his arrival in Gaza isn’t a visit, but a realization of the unity of our people and the end of this ugly division.”
Earlier, Hamas and Fatah signed a reconciliation deal after Hamas agreed to hand over administrative control of Gaza, including the key Rafah border crossing.
The deal brokered by Egypt bridges a bitter gulf between the Western-backed mainstream Fatah party and Hamas, said Reuters.
Palestinian unity could also bolster Abbas’s hand in any revival of talks on a Palestinian state in Israeli occupied territory. Internal Palestinian strife has been a major obstacle to peacemaking, with Hamas having fought three wars with Israel since 2008 and continuing to call for its destruction.
Hamas’ agreement to transfer administrative powers in Gaza to a Fatah-backed government marked a major reversal, prompted partly by its fears of financial and political isolation after its main patron and donor, Qatar, plunged in June into a major diplomatic dispute with key allies like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Qatar of supporting militants, which it denies.
The Palestinian accord was met warily in Israel.
For Israel to accept it, said one government official, the deal must abide by previous international agreements and terms set out by the Quartet of Middle East peace mediators — including the recognition of Israel and Hamas giving up its weapons.
“Israel will examine developments in the field and act accordingly,” according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Thousands of Palestinians took to the streets across Gaza on Thursday in celebration of the unity pact, with loudspeakers on open cars blasting national songs, youths dancing and hugging and many waving Palestine and Egyptian flags.
Egypt helped mediate several previous attempts to reconcile the two movements and form a power-sharing unity government in Gaza and the West Bank, where Abbas and the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA) are based.
“The legitimate government, the government of consensus, will return according to its responsibilities and according to the law,” Fatah delegation chief Azzam Al-Ahmed said at the signing ceremony in Cairo.
He said the unity government would “run all institutions without exception,” including all border crossings with Israel and in Rafah, Gaza’s only access point with Egypt.
The agreement calls for Abbas’ presidential guard to assume the responsibility of the Rafah crossing on Nov. 1, and for the full handover of administrative control of Gaza to the unity government to be completed by Dec. 1.
Analysts said the deal is more likely to stick than earlier ones given Hamas’s growing isolation and realization of how hard Gaza, its economy hobbled by border blockades and infrastructure shattered by wars with Israel, was to govern and rebuild.
“We in Hamas are determined and are serious this time and just like all other times ... We have dissolved the administrative committee (shadow government)...We have opened the door to reaching this reconciliation,” Saleh Arouri, the head of Hamas negotiators in Cairo, said after the signing ceremony.
Delegations from the two rivals have been in talks in Cairo this week to work out the details of the administrative handover, including security in Gaza and at border crossings.
Key was the Rafah crossing, once the gateway to the world for the 2 million people packed into the small impoverished territory. Fatah said it should be run by the presidential guards, supervised by the EU border agency, EUBAM, instead of the Hamas-linked employees now deployed.
“EUBAM Rafah maintains readiness to redeploy to the Rafah crossing point when the security and political situations will allow,” said Mohammed Al-Saadi, press officer for the EU Coordinating Office for Palestinian Police Support.
Any decision on EUBAM deployment would be taken in conjunction with the Palestinian Authority and Israel’s government, he said in a statement.
Some 3,000 Fatah security officers are to join the Gaza police force. But Hamas would remain the most powerful armed Palestinian faction, with around 25,000 well-armed militants.
Both rivals hope the deal’s proposed deployment of security personnel from the PA to Gaza’s borders will encourage Egypt and Israel to lift tight restrictions at frontier crossings — a step urgently needed to help Gaza revive a war-shattered economy.
Another major issue in talks on the deal was the fate of 40,000 to 50,000 employees Hamas has hired in Gaza since 2007, a thorny point that helped crash the 2014 unity accord.
Under the deal, these employees will receive 50 percent of what their PA salary would be — or equivalent to what they are paid now by Hamas — pending vetting of their professional qualifications.
Hamas and Fatah are also debating a potential date for presidential and legislative elections and reforms of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which is in charge of long-stalled peace efforts with Israel.
The last Palestinian legislative election was in 2006, when Hamas scored a surprise victory. That sparked the political rupture between Hamas and Fatah, which eventually led to their short civil war in Gaza.

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