The agreement, brokered by Egypt, has drawn warnings from Israel and stirred concern in Washington that it could undermine peace efforts. The United States and Israel consider Hamas — whose charter calls for Israel’s destruction and which has carried out suicide bombings and rocket attacks against it — a terrorist organization.
The ceremony at the headquarters of Egypt’s intelligence agency, which followed an off-camera signing of the accord by delegation heads from both sides, was delayed by a disagreement over whether Hamas leader Khaled Meshal would speak and sit on the podium with Abbas. In the end, Meshal sat with the other delegates in the hall and his remarks were limited.
To avoid live images of possibly awkward scenes, Egyptian television broadcast a delayed and edited video of the proceedings that showed no handshake between the two leaders, who met later.
Still, the signing prompted celebrations in Gaza City, where drivers honked horns and young men who had gathered downtown danced and shouted “Fatah and Hamas, one hand!” and “National unity!” as they waved Palestinian flags and banners of both factions.
“This is a very precious day for us because it unites the two parts of the country,” said Mahmoud Taha, 27, who was at a smaller celebration in Manara Square in Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.
In a first sign of change, the Palestinian Authority’s television channel was allowed to broadcast again from the Gaza Strip, a move reciprocated in the West Bank, where Hamas TV resumed its operations.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, visiting London on Wednesday, called the accord “a mortal blow to peace and a big prize for terror.”
“Just three days ago, the terror axis was dealt a heavy blow with the liquidation of bin Laden. Today in Cairo, it was granted a victory,” Netanyahu said.
Under the accord, the two factions will form a transitional government, composed of unaffiliated technocrats, that will prepare for parliamentary and presidential elections within a year and manage the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip.
The agreement also provides for elections to the Palestine National Council, the broadest decision-making body of the Palestine Liberation Organization, and for Hamas’s entry into the PLO.
Seeking to allay concerns that his partnership with Hamas would harm peace efforts, Abbas asserted that the Palestinians “affirm the commitment to signed agreements and the solution of two states along the 1967 borders” between Israel and the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.