The Palestinian cabinet met in Gaza on Tuesday for the first time since 2014, in the latest step towards the internationally-recognized Palestinian Authority retaking control of the territory.
The meeting of the Fatah party-led government, which is based in the occupied West Bank, comes as part of efforts to end a decade-long split between the PA and the Islamist Hamas movement, which runs Gaza.
In an opening speech, Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah renewed his pledge to end the rift.
“We are here to turn the page on division, restore the national project to its correct direction and establish the (Palestinian) state,” he said.
It was the first meeting of the cabinet in Gaza since November 2014, and comes a day after Hamdallah entered the territory for the first time since a unity government collapsed in June 2015.
Hamas has controlled Gaza since seizing it from the PA in a near civil war in 2007 and multiple previous reconciliation attempts have failed.
Last month, the Islamists announced they were willing to cede civilian control in Gaza to the PA, after Egyptian pressure.
“If the region stays engaged, if Egypt’s role continues and if the political parties themselves continue to show the willingness they are currently showing to work with us on this process, then it can succeed”
The United States and the European Union blacklist Hamas as a terrorist organization, complicating the formation of any potential unity government.
More than two million people live in impoverished Gaza, which has been blockaded by Israel and Egypt for years.
The head of Egyptian intelligence Khaled Fawzy was set to visit Gaza later on Tuesday and meet with Hamas officials, including leader Ismail Haniya, an Egyptian official told AFP.
Tuesday’s cabinet session took place at the official Gaza residence of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in an office hung with portraits of Abbas and historic Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. No Hamas officials were involved.
No Hamas officials were involved. Hamas security officials were on the roof of the building, however, while Palestinian Authority agents were deployed inside, an AFP correspondent reported.
“Today we are faced with a historic revival in which we are grappling with our wounds and elevating our unity,” Hamdallah said, reaffirming that there would be no Palestinian state without Gaza.
UN Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov said on Monday that he was “carefully optimistic” about the reconciliation talks. “If the region stays engaged, if Egypt’s role continues and if the political parties themselves continue to show the willingness they are currently showing to work with us on this process, then it can succeed,” he told AFP.
But analysts remain skeptical about the chances of a wider reconciliation between the two sides.
Hamas retains a powerful military wing that has fought three wars with Israel since 2008 and Hamas officials reject the possibility of dissolving it.
“The United States welcomes efforts to create the conditions for the Palestinian Authority to fully assume its responsibilities in Gaza”
Israeli officials have been wary of encouraging improved relations between Hamas and the PA, while the United States gave a cautious welcome to Hamdallah’s visit.
“The United States welcomes efforts to create the conditions for the Palestinian Authority to fully assume its responsibilities in Gaza,” White House special envoy Jason Greenblatt wrote on his Facebook page.
But in an apparent reference to Hamas, he said any Palestinian government “must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognition of the State of Israel, acceptance of previous agreements and obligations between the parties and peaceful negotiations.”
Hamas does not accept Israel’s right to exist.