RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) – The Palestinian unity government will hold its first Cabinet meeting in Gaza this week, a key step toward taking charge of reconstruction efforts in the war-battered territory, a senior official said Monday.
The Cabinet will convene Thursday, said Deputy Prime Minister Mohammed Mustafa, three days before an international pledging conference where the Palestinian government will seek $4 billion in aid for Gaza, hit hard in a 50-day war this summer between Israel and the Islamic militant group Hamas.
Donor countries view the unity government of independent experts, led by Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, as key to any reconstruction plans. Hamas, which is shunned as a terrorist group by the international community, has governed Gaza for the past seven years.
The purpose of the Gaza meeting is to “see the situation on the ground and to send a message to the donors’ conference that the government is ready to start reconstruction soon,” Mustafa told The Associated Press.
Hamas seized Gaza from Abbas in 2007, prompting a border closure of Gaza by Israel and Egypt, enforced to varying degrees over the past seven years. After Egypt tightened the closure last year and stepped up its destruction of cross-border smuggling tunnels, Hamas began experiencing severe financial difficulties that made it increasingly difficult for the group to govern.
Earlier this year, Hamas agreed to hand over authority to a temporary unity government reporting to the West Bank-based Abbas, though it refused to disband its security forces. Other key issues remained unresolved, including the fate of more than 40,000 employees hired by Hamas after 2007. The unity government has not yet started operating in Gaza.
Mustafa said that’s about to change. “The government is for both the West Bank and Gaza, and it’s time to start operating in Gaza despite the difficulties,” he said in a phone interview.
In the West Bank, which Israel seized in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, Palestinians have limited self-rule in 38 per cent of the territory.
The unity Cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, will meet in Abbas’ former residence in Gaza, Mustafa said. Abbas has not set foot in Gaza since the Hamas takeover, and it remains unclear when he might return to the territory.