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PA government: we are ready to undertake our responsibilities in Gaza

Sept. 19, 2017 7:18 P.M. (Updated: Sept. 20, 2017 12:27 P.M.)
The Palestinian Authority cabinet
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The Palestinian Authority is prepared to undertake its responsibilities in the Gaza Strip, the PA cabinet announced following its weekly meeting on Tuesday, days after Hamas, the de facto ruling party in Gaza, pledged to dissolve its administrative committee that runs the besieged coastal enclave.

The cabinet, headed by Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, affirmed that the PA government has “prepared plans to handle all aspects of life in the Gaza Strip and will carry out its duties towards Palestinians in Gaza and lessen their suffering.”

The Hamas movement announced Sunday it has dissolved its administrative committee -- formed earlier this year to the outrage of the PA, agrees to hold general elections for the first time since 2006, enter talks with Fatah, and allow the national reconciliation government to operate in Gaza.

Hamas said the decision came in response to recent diplomatic efforts by Egypt to reconcile the rival factions, while PA President Mahmoud Abbas has been calling on Hamas to relinquish control of the small territory to the PA.

PA presidential advisor for international affairs, Nabil Shaath, said Monday that he expects that Hamdallah will travel to Gaza in the coming few days and that "he will be treated with respect and full cooperation from Hamas, which has been ruling the Gaza Strip since its 2007 coup against the Palestinian Authority," PA-owned Wafa news agency said in a report.

"Once Hamdallah is in Gaza and his government starts to run the various departments, the next step would be meetings between Fatah and Hamas along with other political factions to start laying out the ground rules to actual reunification and resolving all outstanding issues," the report said.

The PA official however said the 2011 reconciliation agreement "had full details in dealing with all issues, including the staff Hamas has hired to run the Gaza institutions following the boycott by the Palestinian Authority employees, and that all that is expected to be done is how to start enforcing it on the ground," according to Wafa.

"This may take some time, he said, but at least the Hamdallah government will be in charge in Gaza and will be working on bridging the administrative gap between the two parts of the Palestinian territories -- the West Bank and Gaza Strip," the report concluded.

In recent months, the PA has been accused of deliberately sending the impoverished Gaza Strip further into a humanitarian catastrophe -- by slashing funding for Israeli fuel, medicine, and salaries for civil servants and former prisoners -- in order to pressure Hamas to give up control of Gaza.

At a press conference at the Rafah border crossing later Tuesday evening, head of Hamas’ politburo Ismail Haniyeh said, “We did not only issue a statement and announce that the administrative committee is dissolved, but we took de facto actions and the administrative committee is no longer operating.”

“We are prepared to welcome the national consensus government to enter Gaza and we are ready to go back to Cairo to continue talks between Fatah and Hamas in preparation for comprehensive national dialogue,” he said.

Haniyeh also thanked Egyptian leadership for their stance towards the Palestinian cause and for their “huge” efforts toward achieving Palestinian reconciliation.

Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhum previously said that Abbas must now “cancel all punitive measures that have been taken against Palestinians in Gaza,” requesting that Abbas and the Fatah movement allow the PA government to undertake all of its responsibilities in the Gaza Strip “without any procrastination.”

Hamas leader Abed al-Rahman Shadid meanwhile called on the PA to put an end to carrying out “political arrests” in the occupied West Bank and release all detainees now that Hamas had dissolved the administrative committee and agreed the PA’s conditions for reconciliation.

Hamas has long accused the PA of executing a plan to "eradicate" the movement from the West Bank by escalating security coordination with Israeli authorities through politically-motivated arrests, and “adopting a revolving door policy" funneling Palestinians from PA jails into Israeli prisons.

“Our people in the West Bank are tired of political arrests that increase the burden of thousands of former prisoners, university students, and their families,” Shadid said.

The Hamas spokesperson condemned the Ramallah-based government for targeting members of Hamas-affiliated Islamic bloc, which he said “proved (the PA’s) intentions to ruin reconciliation.”

“The Fatah movement and the PA continue violations against Hamas affiliates in the West Bank arresting dozens and carrying campaigns against them,” he said in a statement Monday.

Hamas and the Fatah-led PA have been embroiled in a more than a decade-long conflict since 2006, when Hamas won Palestinian legislative elections and a bloody conflict between the two groups broke out.

Despite numerous attempts at reconciling the groups, Palestinian leadership has repeatedly failed to follow through on promises of reconciliation and holding of long-overdue elections, as both movements have frequently blamed each other for numerous political failures.

Onlookers have expressed concerns over the possibility of Hamas and Fatah following through on reconciliation this time around. Some have described Hamas’s offer as a bluff designed to pin blame on Abbas if reconciliation talks cave in, and that by inviting the PA to assume control of the Gaza Strip, Fatah risks losing to Hamas in general elections again.

A public opinion poll released by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research on Tuesday showed that two-thirds of Palestinians demand the resignation of Abbas and half of the public views the Palestinian Authority as a burden on the Palestinian people.

The poll further showed that if a new presidential elections were held today and only Haniyeh and Abbas were nominated, the former would receive 50 percent of the vote and the latter 42 percent of the vote -- compared to 45 percent each three months ago.

Abbas is currently in New York to take part in the proceedings of the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly, and is set to meet with US President Donald Trump on Wednesday, ahead of the Palestinian president's speech at the UN Thursday.
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