By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Omar Fahmy
GAZA/CAIRO (Reuters) – Rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah signed a reconciliation deal on Thursday after Hamas agreed to hand over administrative control of Gaza, including the key Rafah border crossing, a decade after seizing the enclave in a civil war.
The deal brokered by Egypt bridges a bitter gulf between the Western-backed mainstream Fatah party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas, an Islamist movement designated as a terrorist group by Western countries and Israel.
Palestinian unity could also bolster Abbas’s hand in any revival of talks on a Palestinian state in Israeli-occupied territory. Internal Palestinian strife has been a major obstacle to peacemaking, with Hamas having fought three wars with Israel since 2008 and continuing to call for its destruction.
Hamas’s agreement to transfer administrative powers in Gaza to a Fatah-backed government marked a major reversal, prompted partly by its fears of financial and political isolation after its main patron and donor, Qatar, plunged in June into a major diplomatic dispute with key allies like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Qatar of supporting Islamist militants, which it denies.
The Palestinian accord was met warily in Israel.
For Israel to accept it, said one government official, the deal must abide by previous international agreements and terms set out by the Quartet of Middle East peace mediators – including the recognition of Israel and Hamas’s giving up its weapons.
“Israel will examine developments in the field and act accordingly,” according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Thousands of Palestinians took to the streets across Gaza on Thursday in celebration of the unity pact, with loudspeakers on open cars blasting national songs, youths dancing and hugging and many waving Palestine and Egyptian flags.
Egypt helped mediate several previous attempts to reconcile the two movements and form a power-sharing unity government in Gaza and…