Fatah and Hamas representatives finalized a reconciliation agreement between the two warring Palestinian factions, the culmination of a round of talks that started Tuesday. The agreement was unveiled at a Cairo press conference Thursday afternoon.
Fatah's representative to the signing was senior member and holder of reconciliation portfolio Azzam al-Ahmad and Hamas was represented by its deputy leader Saleh al-Arouri, who said, "We have decided to take a step-by-step approach to implementing reconciliation. Talks this time were aimed at allowing the unity government to operate fully in both the Gaza Strip and West Bank."
The agreement was signed under the watchful eye of Egyptian General Intelligence Director Khaled Fawzy.
The agreement was first announced early Thursday by Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, who said his organization had reached an agreement with rival Palestinian faction Fatah under the auspices of Egyptian mediation, saying, "We'll go to any length to implement the agreement and turn over a new leaf in the annals of our people, forever closing the book on our divisions."
"The most important thing is the agreement's implementation," Hamas added.
Fatah confirmed an agreement was reached, but provided no additional details. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas hailed the reconciliation agreement reached between his Fatah movement and Hamas as a "final agreement to end (Palestinian) division" and instructed the Palestinian government and security establishment to work to implement it, calling on all factions to work on returning unity to the Palestinian people.
A senior Palestinian official told French news agency AFP the agreement is set to include 3,000 Palestinian Authority police officers deployed in the Gaza Strip and near its border crossings with Israel and Egypt by November 1.
"This effectively means the Palestinian Authority would resume both security and civil responsibility (in Gaza)", the official said.
In addition, administrative control of Gaza to be handed over from Hamas to the Palestinian unity government no later than December 1, an official Egyptian statement said.
The accord marked the conclusion of the latest round of talks between the Palestinian factions, and a press conference will be held later Thursday at Egyptian intelligence headquarters in Cairo announcing the agreement's exact details.
Palestinian sources claimed the sides only discussed a unity government and how it would administer Gaza, the border crossings into the region and the issue of slashing the salaries of its government employees.
It appears the sides did not negotiate the issue of disarmament in the strip in general and of Hamas's military arm in particular.
The round of talks, which may determine the future of the relationship between the West Bank and Gaza, was inaugurated Tuesday.
After the pomp and circumstance of the Palestinian government's triumphant return to the Gaza Strip last week, the sides sat down for direct negotiations at Egyptian intelligence headquarters.
Hamas was represented at the talks by newly elected leader Saleh al-Arouri, Hamas Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar and holder of the prisoners' portfolio Rawhi Mushtaha.
Fatah, on the other hand, was represented by holder of the reconciliation portfolio Azzam al-Ahmad and head of Palestinian intelligence and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's confidante Majid Faraj.
The split between the rival Palestinian factions originated in a violent Gaza Strip coup orchestrated by Hamas in 2007, but sanctions levied against both the organization and Gaza itself by Abbas forced negotiations.
The Al-Araby Al-Jadeed newspaper and Egyptian media published a report Tuesday purporting an Israeli delegation also arrived to Cairo at the beginning of the intra-Palestinian talks.
The Israeli delegation arrived for a several-hour visit by private jet, the pro-Qatari paper said. It was slated to meet top Egyptian intelligence officials, the report claimed.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi linked Palestinian reconciliation and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process at a cabinet meeting this week.