Hamas and Fatah sign historic deal backing new Palestinian unity

Rival factions reach agreement in Cairo to end four-year rift

Warring Palestinian factions have reconciled in a long-awaited pact that their leaders hope will draw a line under four years of bitter division that followed a short but bloody civil war.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who heads Fatah, and Khaled Meshaal, the Damascus-based leader of Hamas, the Islamist group in charge of Gaza, joined yesterday in Cairo to ratify the unity deal, seen by most Palestinians as a crucial step towards achieving a lasting peace agreement with Israel. But the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, immediately denounced the pact during a visit to London as a "tremendous blow for peace and a great victory for terrorism."

After months of fruitless talks, a small team of negotiators helped put together the deal during secret meetings in Ramallah, Gaza, Damascus and Cairo, culminating in its signing by lower-ranking party officials the day before. Another 11 factions have also signed.

"Hamas was ready to pay any price for internal Palestinian reconciliation," Mr Meshaal said in his opening remarks at the ceremony in Cairo, alluding to reports that the Islamist party had instigated the surprise rapprochement. "The only battle of the Palestinians is against Israel."

Pledging his commitment to the deal, Mr Abbas said "We turn forever the black page of division. We are certain of success so long as we are united."

But the accord is a risky gamble for the pro-Western leader, who has abandoned stalled peace talks with Israel to pursue a diplomatic offensive, which is expected to culminate in a move in September to seek United Nations recognition of a Palestinian state based on the borders of 1967.

While the rapprochement would bolster Mr Abbas's claim to represent all Palestinians, it could also alienate Western support and threaten millions of dollars in financial aid. At Israel's urging, the United States and Britain both regard Hamas as a terrorist group.

Ordinary Palestinians have longed for the parties to patch up their rift, seen as complicating efforts to forge peace with Israel. Few could contemplate a deal between the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel that would leave the fate of Gaza unsettled.

When the accord was first unveiled last week, Mr Netanyahu warned it could lead to a Hamas takeover of the West Bank and commanded Mr Abbas to reject Hamas for peace. The Palestinian leader responded yesterday by telling Israel to choose "between settlements and peace", accusing his counterpart of using the reconciliation as "a pretext to avoid peace negotiations".

Talks collapsed last September over Israel's expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank, where Palestinians hope to build their future state.

In Gaza, dozens of supporters turned out to celebrate the pact. As the euphoria surrounding the signing of the accord subsides, the attention of many will now be on whether the two factions can resolve their deep-seated differences.

Even a seemingly simple issue of protocol confounded officials in Cairo yesterday when Mr Abbas apparently refused to allow Mr Meshaal to sit alongside him on the podium. Among the PA's most difficult tasks will be how to integrate Hamas's military wing into its security forces, a task complicated by the fact that it has long cracked down on the Islamists in the West Bank.

Yuval Diskin, the outgoing chief of Israel's internal security services, described the accord yesterday as a "spicy drama, nothing more", saying a unity government would "have to answer complex questions, each party will pull in its own direction".

But those who worked behind the scenes to achieve the accord were more confident. "Of course there is a gap in terms of personalities, thinking and priorities," said Mahdi Abdel Hadi, a political analyst who shuttled between the parties in recent weeks. "But Hamas arrived today more open, more willing and more at ease [than ever before]."

The deal envisages that a caretaker government comprised of independents will be established in the next few weeks with the task of preparing for parliamentary and presidential elections.

Fatah and Hamas briefly joined in a unity government in 2007 that soon collapsed amid bitter fighting. Hamas seized control of Gaza, effectively splitting the two territories into separately-governed entities.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us