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Egypt Presses Fatah, Hamas for Final Reconciliation Deal

Head of the Hamas political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, center, and Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip Yahya Sinwar, right, meet with Egypt's general intelligence chief, Khaled Fawzy, and others in Haniyeh's office in Gaza City, ahead of talks in Cairo, Oct. 3, 2017.

Leaders of the rival Palestinian Fatah and Hamas factions were meeting in Cairo Tuesday under the auspices of the Egyptian government amid high hopes that both sides would finally reach a reconciliation deal after a 10-year schism

Top officials from the two Palestinian factions have been mulling the details of an Egyptian draft reconciliation deal, as both sides appear to be inching closer to an agreement that would bring the Hamas-run Gaza Strip back under the control of a Palestinian unity government. Egyptian intelligence officials, who have been pressing both sides for a compromise, have kept a tight lid on information filtering out of the talks.

Egyptian media quoted Fatah delegate to the talks Azzam Ahmed as saying the "key issue now is to allow the Palestinian government [led by Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah] to take the reins of control over Gaza, along with the implementation of a 2011 reconciliation agreement." That agreement failed, amid bickering on both sides.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum told journalists in Gaza that Hamas' priorities in reaching a deal were resolving a festering economic crisis, along with finding a solution to security concerns.

He said that Hamas' main concerns are humanitarian ones, such as the electricity crisis in Gaza, along with the issue of paying the salaries of unpaid government employees in addition to resolving the dispute over the control of border posts.

Hamas has refused until now to allow Fatah security forces or European Union monitors to exercise control over Gaza's main border post with Egypt at Rafah, as per a 2005 agreement with Israel. Hamas purged Fatah officials and security forces from the administration of Gaza in 2007.

Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri raised one potential sticking point with both Egypt and Israel, telling Arab media that "the arms of the Palestinian 'resistance' are not negotiable." Various armed Palestinian factions continue to control swaths of turf inside Gaza and occasionally lob rockets into Israel.

Another point of contention, according to Egyptian mediators, is what to do with some 50,000 government employees and security forces whom Hamas hired since it broke with Fatah in 2007. Fatah would like to see many, if not most of those employees, laid off.

Discussions are also taking place over the issue of holding fresh Palestinian elections some time next year.