(MENAFN - The Peninsula) Beit Hanun: Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah arrived in Gaza yesterday for his first visit in two years, saying the Palestinian Authority would assume control of the strip after a decade of factional strife.
Hamdallah crossed the border with dozens of ministers and officials from the West Bank-based PA into the Hamas-run coastal enclave at around noon.
The Islamists have controlled Gaza since a 2007 split but recently agreed to hand over civilian power to a unity government.
'The government began to exercise its roles in Gaza from today, Hamdallah said at a press conference at the crossing.
'We return to Gaza again to end the division and achieve unity.
He was welcomed by thousands of Gazans, with hopes that this reconciliation plan can avoid the problems that wrecked several previous attempts.
Hamdallah's entry was delayed by around half an hour because of disputes between PA and Hamas security men, a security source said. Hamas politicians and members of the premier's Fatah faction greeted Hamdallah on arrival.
He met Hamas's overall leader Ismail Haniyah and its Gaza chief Yahya Sinwar later yesterday. He is to chair a cabinet meeting today.
Hamas' leader in the Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar, waves as he arrives for a meeting with Hamdallah.
The event is meant to be the first significant step in a transfer of powers. Hamas ousted the PA in 2007 after a near civil war, but recently agreed to dissolve what has been seen as its rival administration and make way for a unity government.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's PA is the internationally recognised Palestinian government and supposed to steer its people to an independent Palestinian state.
Hamas, blacklisted as a 'terrorist group by the European Union and the United States, won a landslide victory in 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections.
It ousted Fatah from Gaza the following year after wrangling over the formation of a new government degenerated into bloody clashes.
Abbas's limited power has since been confined to the West Bank which is under Israeli military occupation and located, at its nearest point, 40 kilometres from the Israel-Gaza border.
The logistics of the visit are themselves an indication of Palestinian divisions and challenges.
Arriving by road from Ramallah, about 70 kilometres away in the West Bank, Hamdallah's convoy crossed Israel and then transited the fortress-like Erez crossing into Gaza before passing a Hamas checkpoint.
Hamas last month finally agreed to the PA's return to Gaza.
The group was squeezed by Abbas, who stopped paying Israel for electricity it supplies to Gaza, resulting in devastating power cuts. For Gaza's two million residents, the hope is to see an improvement in their miserable living conditions in the overcrowded and impoverished territory.
Battered by three wars with Israel since 2008, Gaza is under Israeli and Egyptian blockade and suffers from severe water and electricity shortages, and economic slump.