Egypt sending team to Gaza to help implement Palestinian deal 28Apr11 April 29, 2011

Haaretz -  28 April 2011

Egypt will send a security team to the Gaza Strip to help implement a reconciliation agreement reached by rival Palestinian groups Fatah and Hamas, an Egyptian security source told Reuters on Thursday.

Restructuring and unifying security forces in Hamas-run Gaza is a key condition for the success of the accord, brokered by Egypt on Wednesday to overcome a rift that had stifled a Palestinian drive for independence.

“An Egyptian security delegation will head to Gaza to help settle and organize the internal security situation there, now that the reconciliation agreement is finally in place,” said the security source, who declined to be identified.

He said the security team would seek to meld the disparate security forces belonging to Palestinian factions in Gaza, but declined to explain how.

The deal provides for the creation of a non-factional professional security force which would be subject to scrutiny by the Palestinian legislature.

Another security source said the team would consist of specialists from various branches of the Egyptian army. Like in a previous mission that ended in 2007, Egypt’s intelligence service will oversee the team’s work in Gaza.

Hamas has ruled Gaza since it routed Fatah-led security forces in 2007, a year after it won a Palestinian general election. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah prevails in the much larger West Bank, where Israel remains in overall control in the territory it captured in a 1967 war.

The reconciliation pact calls for setting up an interim unity government to replace the factional administrations that currently run West Bank and Gaza, and prepare for presidential and legislative elections within a year.

A new ballot is long overdue. Israel is worried such a vote could hand Hamas control of the occupied West Bank.

Abbas, who is also the head of the secular Fatah movement, and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, who is based in Syria’s capital Damascus, will sign the deal in Cairo next week.

Forging Palestinian unity is regarded as crucial to reviving any prospect for an independent Palestinian state. Western powers demand that any unity government honor peace deals with Israel, renounce violence and recognize Israel.

Egypt had been trying to broker a reconciliation deal for years. Analysts say a popular uprising that had swept President Hosni Mubarak, Abbas main ally, from power in February and protests rocking Syria, Hamas’s main patron, has helped bring the two sides together.

An Egyptian security mission, led by Major-General Burhan Hammad, quit the Gaza Strip after Hamas seized control of the Strip following fierce clashes with Fatah in 2007. Then-spy chief Omar Suleiman oversaw the mission.

Egypt drafted a reconciliation agreement in 2009 calling for setting up a professional police force from the Hamas-led police currently in control of the Gaza Strip and forces loyal to Abbas’s Fatah faction who ruled the area before 2007.

Hamas refused to sign that accord, demanding amendments be made to the text before endorsing it.

Abbas met with the head of Egypt’s ruling military council, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, earlier this month to discuss reconciliation efforts. “This was a very important meeting and it laid out Egypt’s role in the coming period as the agreement is carried out,” the first security source said.

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