Hamas dissolves Gaza administration in bid for Palestinian unity

CAIRO • The Palestinian Islamist Hamas group said it has dissolved its administration that runs Gaza and agrees to hold general elections, in order to end a long-running feud with President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement.

The last Palestinian legislative election was held in 2006, when Hamas scored a surprise victory that laid the ground for a political rupture. Hamas and Fatah fought a short civil war in Gaza in 2007 and since then, Hamas has governed the small coastal enclave.

Numerous attempts since 2011 to reconcile the two movements and form a power-sharing unity government in Gaza and the West Bank have failed. Hamas and Fatah agreed in 2014 to form a national reconciliation government, but Hamas' shadow government has continued to rule the Gaza Strip.

Hamas said in a statement yesterday that it has dissolved its shadow government, that it will allow the reconciliation government to operate in Gaza, and that it agrees to hold elections and enter talks with Fatah. The statement comes after Hamas leaders held talks with Egyptian officials last week, and with the Gaza Strip facing a mounting humanitarian crisis.

It was unclear, however, whether the steps would result in further concrete action towards ending the deep division with Fatah, based in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmad said a bilateral meeting with Hamas would be organised to begin working out a way forward.

PROGRESS

There will be tangible practical steps in the next few days, starting with the Palestinian national unity government resuming its work according to law in Gaza as it does in the West Bank.

FATAH OFFICIAL AZZAM AL-AHMAD

"There will be tangible practical steps in the next few days, starting with the Palestinian national unity government resuming its work according to law in Gaza as it does in the West Bank, in order to continue its efforts to relieve the suffering of our people in the strip and work towards lifting the unjust blockade," Mr Ahmad told official Palestinian news agency Wafa.

Hoping to pressure Hamas to relinquish control of Gaza, Mr Abbas has cut payments to Israel for the electricity it supplies to Gaza. This means electricity has often been provided for less than four hours a day, and never more than six.

Some polls show that if parliamentary elections were held now, Hamas would win them in both Gaza and the West Bank, the seat of Mr Abbas's Palestinian Authority.

The Western-backed Mr Abbas, 82, is now 12 years into what was to be a four-year term and is an unpopular leader, according to opinion polls. He has no clear successor and there are no steps being taken towards a presidential election any time soon.

The Gaza Strip has faced deteriorating humanitarian conditions, including a severe electricity crisis and a lack of clean water.

It has been under an Israeli blockade for around a decade, while its border with Egypt has also remained largely closed in recent years. The coastal enclave of some two million people also has one of the world's highest unemployment rates.

Facing those conditions, Hamas has turned to Egypt for assistance, particularly for fuel to produce power - and has faced pressure to take steps towards Palestinian reconciliation in return.

Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, including Hamas, have fought three wars since 2008. The Jewish state says its blockade is necessary to stop Hamas from obtaining weapons or materials that could be used to make them.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 18, 2017, with the headline 'Hamas dissolves Gaza administration in bid for Palestinian unity'. Print Edition | Subscribe