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Hamas-Fattah unity cabinet makes first joint visit to post-bombardment Gaza

Ministers visit areas of destruction in Shujaiya and Beit Hanoun; discuss reconstruction efforts before major conference in Cairo on Sunday; vow to fight to end the Israeli occupation

Bassem Aly, Thursday 9 Oct 2014
Al-Hamdallah
Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Al-Hamdallah talks to media after the first unity government meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah June 3, 2014.
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The Palestinian unity government arrived in Gaza on Thursday morning for a 24-hour visit, the first by a joint Hamas-Fattah delegation since the rival groups ended years-long tensions.

It will mostly discuss reconstruction of the occupied Palestinian territory severely damaged by weeks of Israeli attacks in the summer.

Conducting their first visit to the coastal enclave, four months after the unity government was formed, the ministers will meet with the deputy head of Hamas' politburo, Ismail Haniya, and visit destroyed homes in Shujaiya and Beit Hanoun, Palestinian Press Agency (SAFA) reported.

SAFA said Prime Minister Rami Al-Hamdallah and his ministers were allowed enter the strip via the Erez crossing upon the approval of Israeli authorities.

Following a reconciliation deal last April, rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas established a unity government of independents in June. The reconciliation process paved the way for ending seven years of inter-Palestinian division.

The West Bank, before finalising the deal, was governed by the Palestinian Authority (PA), while the Islamist Hamas movement ruled Gaza. 

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had previously accused Hamas of hindering the new entity from enjoying full control over Gaza. Meanwhile, Hamas accused the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA) of leaving its 45,000 employees unpaid in the coastal enclave.

These issues will be tackled during talks between the two sides.

During a press conference held by the Palestinian premier on Thursday, Al-Hamdallah, an independent political figure, asserted that "returning safe and normal life" to Gaza and "full unification between the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem" represent the unity government's key priorities.

An Egyptian-brokered ceasefire between the Palestinian factions and Israel in late August ended a fifty-day Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip. Nearly 2,200 Palestinians lost their lives during the offensive, in addition to more than 12,000 injured. On the Israeli side, 73 were killed, mostly soldiers.

"I came today on behalf of President Abbas and as head of the government to check your [Gazans] needs and start rescuing our people and rebuild what the Israeli assault has destroyed," SAFA quoted him as saying.

"That is a humanitarian, moral and national obligation that we will mobilise all our efforts to fulfill."

Al-Hamdallah said the finalisation of the Palestinian reconciliation deal was an essential step to holding the international community and its "active players" responsible for rebuilding Gaza. 

"In this respect, we speak about completely bringing the Israeli occupation to an end through allowing free movement in Gaza, and opening the crossings," he stated.

The top-level government official vowed to protect Gaza and reject any attempts to isolate its people and asserted that the Palestinians themselves would continue to "defend their land and rights."

Al-Hamdallah stressed that the government would discuss such matters at the awaited Cairo conference on Gaza reconstruction set for Sunday.

The Palestinian government issued a 76-page document with a plan for Gaza's reconstruction. It calls for $4 billion to rebuild the enclave, with most of the amount devoted to building houses for roughly 100,000 homeless people.

The Cairo conference will be attended by more than 30 foreign ministers and under a joint Egyptian-Norwegian headship, Badr Abdel-Atty, a spokesperson for Egypt's foreign ministry told Al-Ahram Arabic news website on Wednesday.

Abdel-Atty also added that more than 50 national delegations and around 20 representatives from regional and international organisation would be present. President Abbas will take part in the conference as well.

A briefing will follow the conference to announce the financial contributions of the attendees to Gaza, he added.  

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