GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Palestinian officials on Monday traveled from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip for the first working meeting of their struggling unity government, months after it was formed, in hopes of reviving efforts to end years of bitter political division.
The Palestinian rivals Fatah and Hamas agreed last spring to form a government of apolitical technocrats. But the government is still not properly functioning due to deep differences.
Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007, leaving the Palestinians divided between two governments. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Palestinian Authority governs in the West Bank.
Monday's meeting was the second time officials from the West Bank have traveled to Gaza since the government was formed. Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah visited Gaza in October for a trip that was largely a formality. Hamdallah did not join Monday's delegation.
Gaza is struggling to recover from a devastating 50-day war between Israel and Palestinian militants last summer. The crowded territory of 1.8 million people suffers from chronic electricity shortages and a lack of building materials to repair damage to thousands of homes. In addition, thousands of civil servants of the former Hamas government are demanding salaries.
An international plan to rebuild Gaza has been repeatedly delayed due to Palestinian infighting that has prevented the new unity government from taking control of border crossings with Israel. Hamas is shunned by Israel and the international community as a terrorist group.
The new government is expected to hold meetings in both Gaza and the West Bank. Ihab Bsaiso, a spokesman, said ministers would discuss a range of issues, including electricity shortages and postwar construction.
But it appeared unlikely they would resolve disagreements over the most serious issues, including the border crossings, salary payments to Hamas employees and the continued control over Gaza by Hamas security forces.
As the West Bank ministers entered Gaza, dozens of protesters held signs saying "stop evading your responsibility toward Gaza."
Hamas official Salah Bardawil said reconciliation must be "based on partnership" and said Hamas must play a role in operating the border crossings. "Without this, their visit is considered a maneuver," he said.