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    Palestinian leader launches reconciliation push in Gaza

    GAZA CITY — The Palestinian prime minister traveled Monday to the Gaza Strip to launch an ambitious reconciliation effort with the rival Hamas militant group, receiving a hero’s welcome from thousands of people as the sides moved to end a bitter 10-year rift.

    Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, representing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party, was joined by dozens of top officials, aides and security men on the trip from the West Bank through Israel and into Gaza to meet with the Hamas officials.

    It is by far the most ambitious attempt at reconciliation since Hamas seized power of the coastal strip in 2007.


    The sides exchanged smiles, handshakes and pleasantries — a reflection of the changed climate that has ripened conditions for reconciliation after other failed attempts. But difficult negotiations lie ahead, and key sticking points, particularly who will control Hamas’s vast weapons arsenal, could easily derail the effort.

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    On Monday, at least, the two sides put aside their differences.

    Well-wishers surrounded Hamdallah’s car as it entered Gaza through the Israeli-controlled Erez border crossing, and dozens of Palestinian youths gathered alongside a barbed-wire fence to glimpse the welcoming ceremony.

    Some waved Palestinian or yellow Fatah flags, and many chanted Hamdallah’s name.

    ‘‘The only way to statehood is through unity,’’ Hamdallah told the crowd of about 2,000. ‘‘We are coming to Gaza again to deepen the reconciliation and end the split.’’


    Conditions in Gaza have deteriorated greatly in a decade of Hamas rule, and the feeling of hope by desperate residents was palpable Monday.

    Thousands lined the streets to watch Hamdallah’s 30-vehicle convoy. The crowd forced the delegation to delay its first meeting at the home of the top Fatah official in Gaza and instead take a break at a beachside hotel.

    Dozens of vehicles later returned to the Shejayeh neighborhood for the lunch.