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Hamas hands over Gaza border crossings to Palestinian Authority

The Islamist group Hamas on Wednesday began handing control of border crossings in Gaza to the Palestinian Authority (PA) as part of a reconciliation deal.

A ceremony at the Rafah crossing with Egypt saw a formal transfer from a Hamas official to his Palestinian Authority counterpart, the BBC reported.

Hisham Odwan, spokesman of the Hamas-run borders and crossings corporation, said: “From now and then, the Palestinian consensus government is the first and last body in charge of the crossing points in the Gaza Strip.”

At the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings with Israel, Hamas offices and security equipment were being dismantled.

The Palestinian Authority is due to take full control of security in Gaza in December, the report said.

The reconciliation deal, brokered by Egypt in October, aims to end a decade-long split between Hamas and its secular rival Fatah which dominates the Palestinian Authority.

Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank have been ruled separately since deadly clashes between Hamas and Fatah broke out in 2007.

Hamas won parliamentary elections in the occupied territories the previous year and reinforced its power in Gaza after ousting Fatah from the enclave.

In what was seen as the first key test of the reconciliation agreement, the director of the Palestinian Borders and Crossings Authority, Nazmi Muhanna, took full control of the Rafah crossing on Wednesday.

In a short speech, PA Public Works Minister Mufeed al-Hasayneh declared that “the word ‘split’ will not exist in the Palestinian dictionary anymore”.

“There is no yellow and green. All our Palestinian people are under the Palestinian flag,” he said, referring to the main colours of the Fatah and Hamas flags.

Civil Affairs Minister Hussein Sheikh said the Rafah crossing would resume full operations on November 15.

Rafah had largely been closed since 2007, when Israel and Egypt tightened their blockades of Gaza in response to the Hamas takeover and in an attempt to prevent attacks by militants.

All the Palestinian factions are due to meet in Cairo on November 21 to continue discussing implementation of the reconciliation deal, including the formation of a unity government that is not expected to include Hamas members.

Israel and the US have expressed reservations about the reconciliation deal.

The US said any Palestinian unity government would need to recognise the State of Israel, disarm “terrorists” and commit to peaceful negotiations.

Israel, which also considers Hamas a terrorist organisation and had fought three wars with militants in Gaza, said it would not deal with a Palestinian government that “relies on Hamas”.

Hamas is one of the major resistance groups in Palestine who are working for the freedom of the Palestinian land from the occupation of Israel.

(With inputs from IANS)