GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Ten months after taking office, Cabinet ministers in a Palestinian unity government paid a rare visit to the Gaza Strip on Sunday, hoping to breathe life into a troubled reconciliation process with the Hamas militant group.
The eight Cabinet ministers, all from the West Bank, are spending the week in Gaza in hopes of winning concessions from Hamas, which remains in firm control of the territory despite last year's unity deal.
Hamas took control of Gaza from the forces of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007. Abbas, leader of the rival Fatah Party, has governed in parts of the West Bank since then.
Under last year's deal, the rivals agreed to form an apolitical unity government made of technocratic government ministers. Hamas, isolated as a terrorist group by the international community, is not part of the government, but offered its support from the outside.
However, little progress has been made in the unity efforts, and the West Bank and Gaza remain divided. The rift remains a major obstacle to Abbas' goal of establishing an independent state that includes both territories.
Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, who recently visited Gaza, did not accompany his Cabinet this week. One of the biggest challenges is integrating some 40,000 public servants hired by the Hamas government into Abbas' internationally recognized Palestinian Authority. Hamas is insisting that they retain their jobs.
The disagreement has prevented progress on all other issues, including reconstruction of Gaza after a devastating war with Israel.
"The government is assigned today to break the freeze in the Palestinian scene and come up with a practical plan to integrate all the employees," said Ihab Bsaiso, the government's spokesman.
Over the previous two nights, explosions were reported near the Cabinet's Gaza headquarters, a United Nations building and the office of the Hamas-appointed attorney general, all located in the same block. The blasts caused no damage or injuries, but they came ahead of the planned visit of the ministers.
In November, similar blasts caused Hamdallah to cancel a visit. Gaza's police, still under Hamas' control, said it was investigating the explosions.