Palestinian Authority officials set for historic Gaza visit

The visit is part of a historic bid to work on ending the territorial division between the West Bank and Gaza.

A Palestinian holds a flag during a protest (photo credit: REUTERS)
A Palestinian holds a flag during a protest
(photo credit: REUTERS)
PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and several other government ministers are set to travel to Gaza Monday morning in a historic bid to work on ending the territorial division between the West Bank and Gaza.
The Palestinian Authority head of government is slated to hold meetings with Hamas officials, as well as a cabinet meeting in Gaza City on Tuesday.
“We are determined to undertake our role in supporting the reconciliation efforts and turning the page of the division so that the homeland becomes reunited,” Hamdallah said during a ministerial meeting in Ramallah on Sunday.
Since Hamas ousted the Fatah-dominated PA from Gaza in 2007, the two rival parties have essentially established two governments: one Hamas-run in Gaza and another Fatah-backed government in the West Bank.
One eve of Gaza reconciliation, Hamas frees Fatah men, October 1, 2017. (Reuters)
However, Hamas announced the dissolution of its governing body in Gaza two weeks ago and invited the PA to take its place. Fatah welcomed the announcement and said it hopes the PA will begin to take over Gaza this week.
Two senior Egyptian Intelligence officials, including Gen. Samih Kamil and Col. Hamam Abu Zeid, arrived in Gaza on Sunday to monitor the PA government’s visit. Egyptian Intelligence Minister Khaled Fawzy is expected to join the Egyptian officials already in Gaza on Monday.
According to a senior PA official, the Egyptian officials will be present to ensure that Hamas hands over control of the different ministries in Gaza.
“They are going to serve as a guarantor,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Most of the PA ministers are expected to visit their respective ministries in Gaza on Monday and Tuesday to meet with employees and undertake situational reviews.
On Sunday, PA Culture Minister Ihab Basiso visited the Culture Ministry in Gaza where he met with employees and delivered a short speech. Basiso also met with Hamas politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh on Sunday evening.
A second senior Palestinian official, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that while he believes the Palestinians are on the path to reconciliation, they still have many obstacles to overcome.
“We still have a lot of work to complete and a number of issues to work out,” the official said.
According to the official, the PA and Fatah first plan to discuss the issue of employees and crossings with Hamas.
Since taking over Gaza, Hamas has appointed 40,000 employees to work in the Strip’s ministries. The PA does not recognize the legitimacy of the Hamas-appointed employees and has tens of thousands of its own employees in the Strip who have been out of work for 10 years.
While Hamas wants the PA to integrate its 40,000 employees onto its payroll, the PA has said in previous reconciliation attempts it cannot afford to absorb most of them and would like its employees in Gaza to go back to work.
Regarding the crossings, Hamas controls the Palestinian side of the various pedestrian and commercial crossings into Gaza. The PA would like Hamas to cede the crossings to its security forces and bureaucrats.
“If we can overcome the employees and crossings issues, then we will move on to the more complicated issue of security,” the official said.
Hamas controls Gaza’s security and has made clear that it has no intention of giving it up. Both Hamas’s deputy chief in Gaza, Khalil al-Hayya, and Hamas politburo member Musa Abu Marzouk said last week that Hamas’s armed wing’s weapons are not up for discussion.
“No bartering or touching the weapons of the resistance,” Hayya said in an interview with Al Jazeera on Wednesday. “We will fight the occupation with all means of resistance until [it] is wiped away.”
The senior official added that the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah will not accept Hamas implementing what he called “the Hezbollah-model” in Gaza.
Hezbollah controls militias in southern Lebanon that are outside of the control of the Lebanese state.
In past reconciliation attempts, PA President Mahmoud Abbas frequently repeated the slogan of “one weapon, one law and one sovereign.”
Hamas on Sunday released five Fatah prisoners in Gaza who were jailed for what it called “actions harmful to internal security.” It has freed a total of eight Fatah prisoners in Gaza as a part of understandings with the Fatah faction, which supports exiled leader Mohammad Dahlan.
Speaking to reporters, one of the freed inmates, Taher Abu Armana, thanked Hamas Gaza chief Yahya al-Sinwar and Dahlan for his release.
Late Sunday evening, Abbas and Haniyeh spoke over the telephone about the PA government’s expected visit, according to a Hamas readout of the call.
Meanwhile, the Hamas-run Interior Ministry in Gaza on Sunday announced that it deployed a number of security forces to protect the PA officials upon their arrival.
A total of 200-250 PA personnel, including officials, security personnel and ministerial assistants, are slated to travel to Gaza, according to PA Civil Affairs Ministry Spokesman Muhammad Maqadama. They are expected to arrive in the Strip around noon and will travel in one convoy.
Maqadama said Israel didn’t refuse any of the permits requested by the PA for its personnel to go to Gaza.
Reuters contributed to this report.