CAIRO • Hamas and Fatah yesterday signed a reconciliation deal in Cairo to end their decade-old rivalry, with provisions for a joint administration that will control Gaza's borders, including a key crossing point with Egypt, but that leaves thornier issues unresolved.
Under the agreement brokered by Egyptian intelligence, Fatah will lift a series of punitive sanctions that it imposed on Hamas-controlled Gaza earlier this year.
In return, Hamas will join a new unity government scheduled to start work on Dec 1. Palestinian officials said that, if all went well, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas could visit Gaza within the coming month - his first visit to the embattled coastal strip in a decade.
The deal was seen as a significant step to end the civil war that has split Palestinians since violent clashes between Hamas and Fatah in 2007, even if serious hurdles remain unresolved, including the status of the Hamas militant wing and its estimated 25,000 fighters.
A previous agreement between Hamas and Fatah - also signed in Cairo, in 2011 - came to nothing. Palestinian officials said the deal reached yesterday enjoys a greater chance of success because it is backed by Saudi Arabia, the United States and, they believe, Israel.
Although he was not in Cairo, Mr Abbas gave his blessing to the deal, hailing it as a "final agreement".
"I welcome the agreement reached between the Fatah and Hamas movements in Cairo," he told Agence France-Presse, adding that he gave orders to sign it immediately. Mr Abbas has not visited Gaza, a tiny territory that is home to two million people, since Hamas ejected Fatah after a series of armed clashes.
Previous attempts at reconciliation have repeatedly failed, and many analysts are treating the latest bid with caution, waiting to see if actual change will occur on the ground.
Hamas has largely controlled Gaza since it took power in 2006, while Fatah governs the Palestinian state on the West Bank.
Details of the deal are unclear. Several Western news organisations were excluded from a signing ceremony at the headquarters of Egypt's General Intelligence Directorate, which brokered talks on Tuesday and Wednesday that led to the agreement.
A video supplied by a Palestinian official shows Hamas' deputy leader Saleh al-Arouri embracing Mr Azzam al-Ahmad, the head of the Fatah team, after the signing.
Egypt's State Information Service issued an unsigned statement saying the two rivals had "agreed on procedures" for the unity government. But it also acknowledged continuing "division between the two sides", and said it would host another meeting on Nov 21.
Celebrations broke out in the Gaza Strip after the announcement of the deal, with residents waving flags of Egypt, Palestine, Fatah and Hamas.
Islamist movement Hamas is blacklisted as a terrorist group by the US and the European Union. It has fought three wars with Israel since 2008 and the blockaded Gaza Strip has seen deteriorating humanitarian conditions.
Faced with increasing isolation and a severe electricity shortage, Hamas has reached out to Egypt for help, hoping to have the key Rafah border opened. The crossing has remained largely closed in recent years. Egypt has also agreed to provide fuel to the Gaza Strip for electricity generation.
In return, Cairo pressed Hamas to move forward on reconciliation with Fatah. Previous attempts at reconciliation have repeatedly failed, and many analysts are treating the latest bid with caution, waiting to see if actual change will occur on the ground.
Reconciliation could also pose a dilemma for international efforts to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal since Hamas has not recognised Israel, unlike the Palestine Liberation Organisation led by Mr Abbas.
Mr Ahmed Youssef, an adviser to the Hamas leader, Mr Ismail Haniya, said Hamas and Fatah had agreed to joint control over the Rafah border crossing.
But, he added, the two sides had not discussed key elements, such as a joint strategy for dealing with Israel, the conduct of any future elections and, crucially, the state of the Hamas military wing.
NYTIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE