Leaders of the Palestinian terror group Hamas announced on Sunday that a national unity government formed earlier this year with the Fatah party had officially expired, leaving the status of the fragile political framework up in the air, according to regional reports.
The end of a tenuous six-month unity deal reached between Hamas and Fatah means that leaders from both Palestinian factions will have to meet in the coming weeks to decide whether or not to renew the governing coalition, which had united the ruling parties in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
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The expiration of the deal was announced on Sunday by Hamas Spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri during a news conference in Gaza, according to the Palestinian Ma'an News Agency. Conflicting reports about the status of the unity government emerged just hours later when a Fatah official claimed that an expiration date had never been set on the deal.
The uncertainty surrounding the unity government comes as tension in Jerusalem remains high amid a spate of violent protests by the Palestinians that have been endorsed by Fatah leaders in several cases.
Hamas Spokesman Zuhri said that the group "isn't interested in incitement, but rather seeks to maintain national unity," according to Ma'an.
Hamas "does not control the Gaza Strip at all," according to Zuhri, who added, "If the national consensus government doesn't want to take responsibility for Gaza, this doesn't mean the government is exempted from this responsibility."
Hamas also expressed anger at a recent crackdown on its supporters undertaken by Palestinian Authority security forces.
At least 80 Hamas-backers have been arrested in the West Bank, according to Ma'an.
"Hamas denounces the escalating violations and criminal acts by the PA security services against supporters of Hamas and the Palestinian resistance," Zuhri was quoted as saying.
Meanwhile, Fatah leaders are claiming that the unity government was not supposed to expire.
The unity government was tasked with holding elections within a six-month time frame, but was not supposed to be dissolved if this was not completed.
"If the Hamas movement has retracted the reconciliation agreement and the termination of rivalry, that is a different case," Fatah official Faisal Abu Shahla was quoted as telling Ma'an after Hamas's announcement.
Shahla further stated that "reconciliation discussions were pending a response from Hamas regarding the attacks with explosives against Fatah leaders' property in Gaza and the cancellation of a ceremony commemorating the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Gaza City in early November," according to Ma'an.