Palestinian PM to chair first Gaza cabinet meeting

GAZA CITY: Palestinian prime minister Rami Hamdallah crossed into Gaza on Thursday to hold the first cabinet meeting in the war-ravaged territory of a unity government formed by rivals Fatah and Hamas.

The meeting was to take place ahead of an October 12 Gaza donors conference in Cairo, and aims to show the international community that a leadership united under the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority would preside over funds donated for reconstruction.

The cabinet’s composition was agreed in June between bitter rivals Fatah, which dominates the PA, and Hamas, which remains in de facto control of Gaza.

But Thursday’s meeting was to be its first in the besieged coastal territory, and the first that its Gaza-based ministers could attend, after Israel blocked their travel to the West Bank to be sworn in.

Hamdallah was greeted by Hamas officials after coming through the Erez  crossing between Gaza and Israel, and Hamas had deployed heavy security throughout northern Gaza for the visit, AFP correspondents said.

The prime minister was to tour some of the areas worst hit by the 50-day war between Israel and Gaza militants in July and August in which nearly 2,200 Palestinians were killed along with about 73 on the Israeli side.

Tens of thousands of homes were levelled, leaving 100,000 people homeless.

The meeting of the cabinet, which is made up of political independents, was due to take place at the Gaza property of president Mahmud Abbas.

Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Malki said the meeting aimed to show the international community that its donations to rebuild Gaza would be overseen by the Western-backed PA, and would not fall into the hands of Gaza militants.

“The consensus government meeting in Gaza is additional proof to the countries participating in the Cairo conference that there are no questions over the PA’s influence in Gaza, and its taking on the task of reconstruction,” he said Wednesday.

The unity government was formed under an April reconciliation deal between the Palestine Liberation Organisation, which is dominated by Abbas’s Fatah party, and Hamas.

But the deal saw setbacks immediately, notably over the issue of who should pay the salaries of Hamas employees in Gaza after its own government disbanded.

Hamas won the last round of Palestinian legislative elections in 2006, and ousted Fatah from Gaza in fierce fighting the following year.

The two sides agreed last month that the new unity government would begin administering the Strip, and would oversee the import of building materials for reconstruction.

Israel is reluctant to ease the blockade it imposed on Gaza in 2006, saying that materials could be used by Hamas to make weapons and attack tunnels.

Source: APP