Palestinian Prime Minister Rami al-Hamdallah arrived in the Gaza Strip on Monday in what is seen as a major step towards ending the decade-long rift between Fatah and Hamas, which seized control of the coastal strip in 2007.
Hamdallah drove through the Israeli Erez crossing, heading a large delegation of Fatah officials from the West Bank trying to end the dispute.
Hamas announced last week that it was handing over administrative control of the Gaza Strip to a unity government headed by Hamdallah, but the movement’s armed wing remains the dominant power in the enclave of two million people.
Hamas’s reversal was the most significant step toward elusive Palestinian unity since the government was formed in 2014. It failed to function in Gaza because of disputes between Hamas and Fatah over its responsibilities.
Analysts said narrowing internal divisions could help Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas counter Israel’s argument that it has no negotiating partner for peace.
A Hamas police honor guard and hundreds of Palestinians, many of them waving Palestinian flags, welcomed Hamdallah outside the Hamas-controlled checkpoint, down the road from the Erez crossing.
“It is a day of Eid, a national holiday,” said Abdel-Majid Ali, 46. “We hope this time reconciliation is for real.”
Hamas, considered a terrorist group by Israel and the West, made its dramatic reversal toward unity last month, disbanding its Gaza shadow government, after Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates imposed an economic boycott on its main donor, Qatar, over support of terrorism.