Hamas-Fatah divisions delay Gaza handover, mar unity deal

Sunday 03/12/2017
Not disarming. Members of Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, parade in Rafah. (AFP)

London - Rival Palestinian factions have delayed the hando­ver of power in the Gaza Strip by at least ten days, stoking fears that a land­mark deal to end their decade-long feud may fail.
Fatah and Hamas announced the handover delay after sharp disa­greements derailed a plan to return civil power in the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority (PA) by De­cember 1.
The handover would have end­ed Islamist movement Hamas’s 10-year dominance of the block­aded Palestinian district and raised hopes that the deteriorating hu­manitarian conditions in the terri­tory could be addressed.
Gazans hope the deal would al­leviate suffering in the enclave of 2 million people, where basic infra­structure, including electricity and clean water, is severely lacking.
Previous attempts at reconcilia­tion between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah move­ment, with headquarters in the oc­cupied West Bank, and his Islamist rivals from Hamas failed.
The two factions have not pub­licly presented plans for resolving remaining issues before the Decem­ber 10 handover deadline under the Egyptian-brokered accord. Many complex issues remain and the two sides have accused each other of violating terms of the agreement.
A key sticking point has been the fate of tens of thousands of PA employees who stopped working when Hamas seized Gaza in a 2007 quasi-civil war. Hamas hired its own employees afterward and the future of the two sets of staff is a key issue to resolve.
The PA government, in a state­ment, stressed the “necessity of all old employees returning to work,” instructing ministers to arrange for the transition. Hamas called the decision a “violation” of existing agreements between the two sides.
The reconciliation agreement reached in October said officials would resolve the issue of the em­ployees by next February but also mandated that Hamas would hand over full control of Gaza by Decem­ber 1.
The Palestinian government is to pay the salaries of the Hamas em­ployees until February.
Hopes for success faded in recent weeks as the two sides had a series of disagreements, including over the future of Hamas’s armed wing, the Qassam Brigades, which in­cludes some 25,000 personnel and remains a major force in the Gaza Strip. The group has been called to disarm but Khalil al-Hayya, deputy head of Hamas in Gaza, said: “The weapons of the resistance are a red line that is non-debatable.”
“These weapons will be moved to the West Bank to fight the (Israeli) occupation. It is our right to resist the occupation until it ends,” he said
The United States and Israel said they would reject any reconcilia­tion agreement leading to a unity government including Hamas un­less it disarms. Abbas has also said there would only be one security force in the Palestinian territories.
The reconciliation agreement signed October 12 in Cairo does not specify a future for the Qassam Bri­gades.
There were nearly 60,000 PA em­ployees in Gaza, of whom approxi­mately 13,000 continued working after Hamas took control, the Unit­ed Nations said. The World Bank said Hamas employed about 50,000 civil servants.
A series of Israeli strikes on the Gaza Strip in response to mortar fire at its forces were another sign of the difficulties facing Palestinian reconciliation. Israel’s military said it struck at least six military posts, including those of Hamas and Is­lamic Jihad, after mortar fire from the enclave at its forces. There was no immediate claim of responsibili­ty for the 12 mortar shells launched.
Three Palestinians were reported wounded, while no Israelis were in­jured.
Separately, the International Criminal Court said it would not prosecute Israel over the deadly raid on a flotilla carrying humani­tarian aid towards Gaza in May 2010.
“I have ultimately decided to reaffirm my previous decision of November 6, 2014,” ICC prosecu­tor Fatou Bensouda said in a state­ment, referring to when she ruled the incident was “not of sufficient gravity.”
However, sticking to that same judgment, Bensouda said: “My conclusion remains that there is a reasonable basis to believe that war crimes were committed by some members of the Israel Defence Forces.”
Nine Turkish citizens died when Israeli marines stormed the Mavi Marmara, among eight ships try­ing to break a naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. One more died in the hospital in 2014.