GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — The militant Palestinian Hamas group and its rival Fatah movement on Thursday reached a partial agreement on governing the Gaza Strip, signaling a major step forward in reducing their deep-seated enmity.
Meanwhile, a senior Palestinian official said President Mahmoud Abbas' government, which runs the West Bank, will press forward with a United Nations bid to set a deadline for Israel to end its occupation of lands captured in the 1967 war, after efforts to enlist American support for the effort ran aground.
"Work with the Americans about the possibility of joint action in the Security Council has reached an impasse," said chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, adding that he expects the Palestinian delegation in New York to propose a U.N. resolution on the issue within three weeks.
The purpose of the resolution is to set the groundwork for the formal establishment of a Palestinian state.
Meanwhile, after days of discussions with Fatah leaders in Cairo, Hamas' deputy leader Mussa Abu Marzouk seemed upbeat in describing the new Gaza deal.
"We and Fatah have reached a deal today on reconciliation," he said. "The deal states that a (unity) government can officially assume control over government institutions in Gaza."
The deal struck behind closed doors in the Egyptian capital is the sixth official accord between the two groups, but with major issues not yet resolved — including salaries for Hamas employees in Gaza and control over the coastal territory's security forces — concerns over possible new confrontations between the factions remain.
Outlining the deal's provisions, Abu Marzouk said the new unity government will start making some payments to government officials in Gaza, though the question of full salaries has been left to future negotiation.
Also, he said, the government will jointly man border crossing points with Israel and Egypt and jointly administer a hoped-for Gaza reconstruction process, funded by donations from European and other western countries.
"We have set the reconstruction as high priority," Abu Marzouk said.
Hamas and Fatah have a long history of dashed hopes. They agreed in April to form a unity government in Gaza, now ruled by Hamas, but the government never really took hold amid longstanding tensions between the factions.
The tensions appear to have spiked in recent weeks over Fatah claims that Hamas's conduct of the recent Hamas-Israel war led to unacceptably high losses of life and damage to property.
The 50 day conflict in July and August in the Gaza Strip killed more than 2,100 Palestinians and left more than 18,000 homes destroyed or severely damaged.
In the spring, Abbas worked out a tentative agreement with Hamas under which he would head a temporary unity government of experts in both the West Bank and Gaza until elections could be held. However, major issues were left unresolved, including the fate of 40,000 government employees hired during the Hamas era and control over the Gaza security forces.
Hamas was mired in a severe financial crisis when it struck the deal, but has become emboldened since the end of the war because fighting with Israel boosted its popularity among Palestinians.
The need to present a joint front ahead of planned donor talks for Gaza's reconstruction may be pushing the rival factions together now, even if sustainable reconciliation remains to be achieved.
A failure to present a unified government led by Abbas is widely seen as being harmful to the reconstruction efforts. Egypt is hosting a pledging conference for Gaza on Oct. 12, but donor countries will likely hold back if Hamas — shunned by the West as a terror group — refuses to step aside as the undisputed Gaza power holder.
Azzam al-Ahmed, an Abbas aide, said Hamas, Fatah and other Palestinian factions have now formed a committee to look into a number of pressing issues in Gaza, including the salary question. "The national committee will be able to sort this out," he said.
Abu Marzouk said this week's meetings yielded broad agreement on creating mechanisms to permit the import of construction materials into Gaza to let rebuilding efforts go ahead.
Concerned that building materials like cement and some metals could be used by Hamas to manufacture weapons, Israel has demanded that foreign governments and international organizations involved in the reconstruction provide clear-cut safeguards against the materials' diversion for weapons-making.
Abu Marzouk appeared to be sensitive to this concern.
"What we did now is facilitating ... and providing all mechanisms to help donors, and give them assurances about the process from the beginning to the end," he said.
On the U.N. resolution aimed at establishing a deadline for Israel to withdraw from the lands captured in the 1967 war, Erekat said that a provisional draft would be ready on Friday, and that consultations with Arab and Islamic countries, the European Union, Russia, China and a number of non-aligned nations could probably be completed in two to three weeks.
Erekat said that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had ruled out the possibility of American support for the U.N. route, insisting that the world body was not the proper forum for negotiating an end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
In light of of continued Israeli settlement in the West Bank, he said, the American position was not tenable.
"Hiding behind the call for the resumption of negotiations ... is no longer viable in front of an Israeli government that uses the peace process as a cover for the continuation of settlements and imposing facts on the ground to destroy the two-state solution," Erekat said.
Associated Press writers Maggie Michael in Cairo and Mohammed Daraghmeh in New York contributed to this report.