Fatah, Hamas proclaim landmark reconciliation pact

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CAIRO (AP) — Rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas on Wednesday proclaimed a landmark, Egyptian-mediated reconciliation pact aimed at ending their bitter four-year rift. The Palestinian president seized the occasion to deliver a scathing criticism of Israel, saying he would not succumb to its blackmail over the future of Mideast peacemaking.

“We forever turn the black page of division,” the Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas said at the declaration ceremony in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, as he promised to visit the Hamas-held Gaza Strip “soon.”

The pact, long in the making, provides for the creation of a joint caretaker Palestinian government ahead of national elections next year but leaves key issues unresolved, such as who will control the Palestinian security forces, and makes no mention of relations with Israel.

Israel denounced the pact in advance of the Cairo ceremony because of the militant Hamas‘ long history of deadly attacks against Israeli targets. It also equated the deal with a renunciation of peacemaking.

Like the United States and the European Union, Israel considers Hamas a terrorist organization and says it will not negotiate with a future Palestinian government that includes the Iranian- and Syrian-backed group.

Mr. Abbas rejected Israel’s opposition to the pact, saying the reconciliation with the militant Islamic group was an internal Palestinian affair.

“They are our brothers and family. We may differ, and we often do, but we still arrive at a minimum level of understanding,” Mr. Abbas said of Hamas.

In a message to Israel, Mr. Abbas added, “We reject blackmail, and it is no longer possible for us to accept the occupation of Palestinian land.”

Mr. Abbas said Israel cannot continue to act as “a state above the law” and called for an end to the construction of new Jewish settlements on lands the Palestinians want for a future state.

“Mr. Netanyahu, you must chose between settlements and peace,” he said, addressing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mr. Abbas also reasserted his intention to win recognition of an independent Palestinian state in the U.N. General Assembly in September.

Hamas leader Kahled Mashaal also spoke at the ceremony, saying his group was prepared to do anything to “translate the text of the pact to facts on the ground. Our battle is with the Israeli enemy and not with Palestinian factions.”

Egyptian intelligence chief Murad Mewafi asserted the right of the Palestinians to have their own state. “The pact opens the way, not only for rearranging the domestic Palestinian home, but also for a just peace,” he said.

It’s not clear whether Western powers would deal with the new government that is to emerge from the unity deal. So far, they’ve said they are waiting to see its composition.

The Quartet of Mideast mediators — the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia — long has demanded that Hamas renounce violence and recognize the principle of Israel’s right to exist.

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