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Abbas urges Hamas to complete Gaza deal with Israel as Palestinian reconciliation looms

President Mahmoud Abbas called on Hamas to speed up its agreement on a hostage deal with Israel to prevent more suffering in Gaza, as mediators scramble to secure a deal.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting of the Palestinian leadership at the presidential headquarters, Ramallah, on Dec. 2, 2023.

As the mediation talks on a pause in the Israel-Hamas war to allow for the release of Israeli hostages held captive in Gaza are in full swing, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday urged Hamas to swiftly finalize a hostage deal with Israel to protect the Palestinian people amid the ongoing Israeli offensive in the coastal enclave.

“We call on the Hamas movement to quickly complete a prisoner swap deal to spare the Palestinian people the scourge of another catastrophe with ominous consequences, no less dangerous than the Nakba of 1948, and to avoid the occupation’s attack on the city of Rafah, which will lead to thousands of victims, suffering and displacement for our people,” Abbas said in a statement carried by the official Palestinian Wafa news agency.

Abbas’ comments come as US, Egyptian and Qatari mediators have been working around the clock in the past days to secure a deal that would see the release of the remaining hostages captured by Hamas during its assault on southern Israel last October.

Hamas militants killed nearly 1,200 people and took more than 240 others hostage during the attack. The group released a total of 110 hostages, and 240 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails were freed during a brief seven-day truce late last November. Israel believes 136 hostages remain inside Gaza, including at least 32 who have been killed since the offensive began.

Cairo hosted an Israeli delegation led by Mossad Director David Barnea on Tuesday, which was also attended by CIA Director William Burns. Hamas is reportedly heading to the Egyptian capital next, a source from the movement told Agence France-Presse, without specifying when.

Hamas insists that any deal on a prisoner swap must include an end to the war. Israel, for its part, rejects this demand, saying it will continue the war in Gaza until all of Hamas is eliminated. 

The Ramallah-based PA has not been involved in the mediation talks.

In his statement, Abbas called on the Biden administration and Arab countries to work seriously to reach a deal as soon as possible.

“We hold everyone responsible for [not] placing any obstacles in front of any party that [might] disrupt the deal, because things are no longer tolerable, and it is time for everyone to bear responsibility,” he said. "Once again, we call on everyone, especially the Hamas movement, to quickly complete the deal so that we can protect our people and remove all obstacles."

More than 28,576 Palestinians have been killed and over 68,291 others injured since Oct. 7, according to the latest data from the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza.

Meanwhile, several countries as well as UN agencies and rights groups have sounded the alarm over the past days about Israel’s planned offensive in Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah, warning against the worsening humanitarian conditions. The UN says about 1.5 million people are packed in Rafah, near the border with Egypt, with nowhere to flee the fighting.

Will PA take over Gaza?

Amid the ongoing efforts to prevent further escalation, questions about Gaza’s post-war future are rising. Several scenarios have emerged, including the PA taking control of Gaza after the war ends.

Hamas has been ruling the enclave since 2007 after expelling the PA following heavy clashes with Fatah, which Abbas also heads. Since then, all mediation attempts by regional actors, namely Egypt, have failed to end the Palestinian division.

Washington has floated the idea of reforming the PA to govern Gaza after the war.

In a Washington Post op-ed published last November, US President Joe Biden said, “Gaza and the West Bank should be reunited under a single governance structure, ultimately under a revitalized Palestinian Authority, as we all work toward a two-state solution.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters during a visit to Tel Aviv last month that a lasting solution that would guarantee Israel’s security includes the establishment of a Palestinian state, adding that the PA must reform itself and improve its governance to achieve this goal.

Israel has opposed plans to allow the PA into Gaza. In comments to the press in December, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would not allow the PA to take over the enclave, accusing it of promoting and financing terrorism.

Meanwhile, Qatar is reportedly pushing for an intra-Palestinian agreement that would see the PA ruling the Gaza Strip after the war, with Hamas’ approval. The Saudi-owned Asharq Al-Awsat news site cited well-informed sources as saying that Abbas was set to discuss a new Palestinian unity government with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani during his visit to Doha earlier this week.

Hamas has yet to comment on the reports.