Palestinian parties ask Egypt to delay Gaza handover as unity deal falters
Rival Palestinian political parties jointly agreed on Wednesday to ask Egypt to postpone the handover of control over Gaza from Hamas to Fatah as part of a reconciliation agreement.
"Hamas and Fatah are asking Egypt to postpone the transfer of the government roles from December 1 to December 10 in order to finalise arrangements to ensure the completion of national reconciliation steps," said a statement from Hamas, the rulers of the Gaza Strip.
A Fatah official confirmed the Hamas statement in remarks following a joint meeting in Gaza City. The handover would have ended Hamas's decade-long control of the coastal territory.
The decision comes after mutual accusations of failure to respect the accord, which would see Hamas handing over all governing duties to the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority.
Fatah's top negotiator, Azzam al-Ahmad, told AFP that Hamas was "not committed" to the 12 October accord mediated by Egypt.
"Hamas is not committed to the agreement it signed in Cairo to end the division," Ahmad said.
"Until this moment, the problems and obstacles from Hamas are still there and are increasing."
In response, senior Hamas official Bassem Naim told AFP: "The leadership of the Palestinian Authority and Fatah insist on continuing manoeuvres and has not committed to implementing the reconciliation agreement."
Earlier Wednesday, in another sign of tension ahead of the deadline, PA employees were prevented by union delegates close to Hamas from returning to work at a number of ministries in the Gaza Strip.
Fatah and Hamas traded accusations over the incident.
A Hamas spokesman said the PA carried "responsibility for causing chaos and confusion", adding that it was violating the terms of the deal.
For his part, Ahmad accused Hamas of "creating an employee strike", saying what happened was "fabricated to paralyse the work of ministries".
As tensions built, Abbas ordered an immediate stop to public statements on reconciliation "for the sake of the Palestinian national interest and our relationship with our Egyptian brothers", official news agency WAFA said.
The Cairo deal signed last month is aimed at ending the decade-long feud between Fatah and Hamas.
A first deadline under the accord was met, with Hamas handing control of Gaza's borders to the PA on 1 November.
But more difficult issues remain, and a number of previous attempts at reconciliation have failed.
The future of Hamas's powerful armed wing is another key dispute between the parties, with the Islamist group refusing to disarm.