The signing of a preliminary agreement in Cairo on Thursday was reached after two days of Egyptian-brokered negotiations. Fatah negotiator Azzam al-Ahmed and Hamas’s representative Saleh al-Arouri smiled and shook hands in a short ceremony presided over by Egypt’s chief of intelligence, Khalid Fawzi.
The move should ensure a unity government will once again administer both the West Bank and Gaza after the rift caused by militant group Hamas’s takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007.
Gaza has been subject to both an Israeli blockade and Fatah strangulating the supply of electricity and other resources. This has crippled its economy and left much of the territory’s population of 1.8 million-strong dependent on aid.
The new deal – technically drafted in 2011 but never implemented – is understood to cover border-crossing arrangements and the livelihoods of thousands of public servants but not some key issues, such as Hamas’s arsenal.
Control of the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt – kept largely closed by Egypt for years – could be reopened and jointly operated as soon as 1 November, Mr Ahmad said.
Opening the border would significantly ease Gaza’s humanitarian crisis, allowing freedom of trade and movement out of “the world’s largest open air prison”. Both sides agreed to European Union monitors at Rafah in an attempt assuage Israeli fears over weapons smuggling.
The deal says an interim government will be formed and long-overdue local and presidential elections take place within one year of the signing. Other details have not yet been made public.
In the past, committees set up to implement similar complicated changes have quickly broken down.
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