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Middle East

Hamas allows Fatah members back into Gaza

Hamas PM Ismail Haniyeh reaches out to West Bank rivals in an effort to promote Palestinian reconciliation.

Last updated: 06 Jan 2014 18:57
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The Hamas-run Gaza Strip has been increasingly isolated under a crippling Egyptian-Israeli blockade [Reuters]

Hamas' prime minister has announced that hundreds of members of Fatah, the group's main political rivals, could return to the Gaza Strip after being exiled from the coastal Palestinian territory since 2007.

Ismail Haniyeh told reporters on Monday that all Fatah members, except those accused of killing Hamas members during factional violence that broke out in 2007, could return to Gaza "without any preconditions".

Fatah lawmakers who are based in the occupied West Bank are now welcome to visit the Gaza Strip, while some imprisoned Fatah members would be released from prisons in the coming days, Haniyeh added.

"We have promised our people to take decisions that would reinforce the internal [Palestinian] front and pave the way for reconciliation," he said.

Hamas and Fatah, the two main Palestinian political factions, have been divided since factional fighting broke out after Hamas' victory in Palestinian legislative council elections in 2006.

Since then, Hamas has been in control of the besieged Gaza Strip, while the US-backed Palestinian Authority has ruled over the occupied West Bank.

'Superficial gesture'

A Fatah spokesman dismissed Haniyeh's announcement as "superficial" and called on Hamas to implement past accords on Palestinian unity.

"What the Palestinian people really want is a genuine end to the division. They want unity, the formation of a government, lifting Hamas's veto on national elections and carrying through on what it agreed on in the past," Ahmed Assaf told Reuters news agency.

Hamas and Fatah leaders committed to an Egyptian-backed reconciliation deal in 2011, but the division persists amid disputes over power-sharing and finding a common strategy in the conflict with Israel.

Both parties have been accused by human rights groups of carrying out wide-scale arrests of each other's members and abusing them while in detention.

Hamas' step towards reconciliation comes at a time when the Gaza Strip is suffering from harsh economic and political isolation caused by an Egyptian-Israeli-imposed siege on the territory.

Hamas also suffered a heavy blow when Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas ally, was toppled in a military coup last July.

The Egyptian army has destroyed hundreds of tunnels used to smuggle fuel and goods into the blockaded Gaza Strip since Morsi's overthrow.

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Source:
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