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West Bank, Gaza Palestinians celebrate unity deal

Thousands of Palestinians take to the streets in the West Bank and Gaza to celebrate the signing of a reconciliation deal between bitter rivals Hamas and Fatah

AFP , Wednesday 4 May 2011
Palestinians celebrate the reconciliation agreement between rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas during a rally in Gaza (Photo: Reuters)

Delighted Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Wednesday celebrated the signing of a reconciliation deal between bitter rivals Hamas and Fatah.

As Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal joined Fatah head and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas for a ceremony in Cairo to finalise the deal, hundreds of Palestinians took to the streets across the territories to show their support.

In Gaza, around 700 people marched to the Square of the Unknown Soldier waving Palestinian flags as well as the green and yellow flags of the two factions for a celebration of the long-awaited accord.

The atmosphere was festive, with demonstrators dancing in circles and letting off firecrackers as they cheered the deal aimed at ending years of division between the two rival national movements.

Many participants waved the green flag of Hamas, and there were more than a dozen people raising the yellow Fatah flag, which has been banned in Gaza for the past four years since the secular movement was ousted by the Islamists.

"This is the first time in four years I can hold a Fatah flag alongside a Palestinian flag," said Mahmud al-Riati, a 20-year-old engineering student wearing a Palestinian flag tied around his shoulders like a cape.

Among Gaza's youth, the mood was overwhelmingly optimistic, despite the long road ahead for the two sides.

"This is the day that we've all been waiting for," an announcer shouted to the cheering crowd, praising the so-called March 15 movement of young Palestinians that organised mass demonstrations calling for a unity deal.

"It is our liberation today," he bellowed, saying it was all down to the youth who suffered arrests and beatings as they repeatedly called for the two factions to reconcile. "It has all been worth it!"

Ebaa Razeq, a 20-year-old student, was confident that the agreement's provisions, including a new transitional government of independents and elections within a year, would be carried out.

"We can't wait," she said with excitement. "It's one of the most important days in the history of the Palestinian cause because we've been suffering from this situation for four years so you can imagine our excitement."

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad described the signing of the deal as a "very happy moment."

"We've been waiting a long time for this to happen," he said.

Hanan Ashrawi, a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, hailed the move as part of the "pursuit of democracy in the Middle East."

The agreement "marks an important step towards Palestinian statehood and lasting peace," she said.

Several dozen demonstrators gathered in Ramallah's Manara Square and outside the parliament building, but they were considerably more cautious about the prospects of the reconciliation working.

"It's a positive thing, but it must be brought to life," said one member of the March 15 movement, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"Having Meshaal and Abbas in one room is a good first step, but it must be noted that the reconciliation's problem was not just signing a piece of paper."

Bashir Saleh, who works for a local NGO, said everyone was aware how much was at stake.

"Signing the agreement is very important because the Palestinian people don't have any choice except reconciliation," the 48-year-old told AFP.

"I hope it will continue on the ground because if they fail this time, it will be a big failure for Hamas and Fatah."

Back in Gaza City, Yasser Muhessin wandered through the crowd wearing a cape made up of a green Hamas flag stitched together with the green flag of Fatah.

It was up to the Palestinian people to push their leaders to make the deal work, he said.

"The agreement is newborn like a new baby and the Palestinian people must come together to protect it. They have to work together," he told AFP. "There's no other choice."

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