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Palestine cabinet meets in Gaza amid unity move


Prime Minister Rami Al Hamdallah chaired the first meeting of the Palestinian cabinet in the Gaza Strip for three years on Tuesday, in a move towards reconciliation between the mainstream Fatah party and Hamas.

Hamas seized the Gaza Strip in 2007 in fighting with Fatah forces loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas and has ruled the impoverished desert enclave of two million people since then.

The cabinet session was the first in Gaza since 2014, Hamdallah told his ministers, and a major step in a reconciliation process promoted by neighbouring Egypt and other US-allied Arab countries.

“Today, we stand before an important, historical moment as we begin to get over our wounds, put our differences aside and place the higher national interest above all else,” Hamdallah said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meeting legislators from his right-wing Likud party, said the Palestinians were engaging in ‘fictitious reconciliations’ and he referred to Iranian funding for Hamas, which has fought three wars with Israel since 2008.

“The way we see it is very simple: Recognise the State of Israel, dismantle the Hamas military wing, cut the ties to Iran, which calls for our destruction,” he said in remarks broadcast on Army Radio.

Hamas last month disbanded its Gaza shadow government after Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE clamped an economic boycott on its main donor, Qatar.

But while Hamas handed over administrative responsibilities to a unity government originally formed three years ago, its armed wing remains the dominant force in Gaza.

A first sign of discontent was quickly evident in the new reconciliation drive: Hamas criticised Abbas’s decision to await the outcome of talks Fatah plans to hold with the group in the next two weeks before lifting sanctions he has imposed on Gaza.

“The government has assumed its responsibilities in Gaza and therefore, delay is not justified,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said.  “There is no excuse for delaying or undermining measures that would ease the suffering of Gaza’s people.”

Abbas halted payments for Israeli-supplied electricity to the enclave in June, a step that has led to long daily blackouts, and he also cut salaries for Gaza civil servants.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu pledged to build ‘thousands’ of new homes in a major West Bank settlement east of Occupied Jerusalem, insisting it would one day be part of Israel.

“We shall build here thousands of housing units” and add industrial zones, Netanyahu said during a visit to the Maaleh Adumim settlement of 37,000 people.