(www.ap.org) вЂ" Gazans danced in the streets, honked car horns and set off fireworks to celebrate a Hamas- Fatah power-sharing deal they hope will avert civil war.
The joy was in stark contrast to the gloom that descended on the impoverished coastal strip during months of deadly infighting between the political rivals. In a show of unity, some drivers flew both green Hamas flags and yellow Fatah banners from their cars.
"People are in disbelief," Maysra Balawi, 24, said late Thursday as he tried to steer his car through jammed streets. "Today is a feast. It is the first happy protest I have seen in Gaza."
Young men danced to the beat of drums, carrying each other on their shoulders. Celebratory gunfire could be heard in several parts of Gaza City and fireworks lit up the sky, reports Trend.
A coalition agreement between the Islamic militant group Hamas and the Fatah movement of President Mahmoud Abbas was signed late Thursday in the holy Muslim city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Under the deal, Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas will remain prime minister. In all, Hamas will get nine Cabinet posts, compared to six for Fatah. Nine other posts will go to independents and smaller factions.
The Saudi-brokered deal caps months of on-again, off-again coalition talks, interspersed with fighting. The key disputes had been control over three ministries вЂ" Foreign, Finance and the Interior вЂ" as well as the language in the new government's program addressing previous peace agreements with Israel.
In the end, the new coalition pledges to "respect" such deals, instead of "committing to" them, as Abbas initially demanded, and it remains unclear whether the U.S. and Israel will be ready to deal with the new coalition. The international community has said any Palestinian government must recognize Israel explicitly.
In a first Israeli response, government spokeswoman Miri Eisin reiterated the international community's conditions, but did not make clear whether the Mecca deal would satisfy Israel.
In Thursday's ceremony, the names of the new Cabinet ministers were not announced. Haniyeh, formally designated as the head of the new coalition, must fill the posts in the coming five weeks.
Two of the three key portfolios were already assigned informally in previous rounds of talks.
Salam Fayyad, who served as finance minister in Fatah-run governments and is respected by the international community, is expected to return to that post. Ziad Abu Amr, an independent, is likely to be named foreign minister.
Hamas officials said they have proposed a former military prosecutor and Fatah member Hammoudeh Jarwan as the new interior minister. The position is key because the minister controls several of the security branches, while Abbas remains in overall control of the troops.
Ahmed Yousef, an adviser to Haniyeh, said there was no objection when it proposed Jarwan during the negotiations. Jarwan told a Hamas-linked Web site that he had not been contacted yet. "I value and appreciate the trust Hamas has put in my, despite me being a Fatah member," he was quoted as saying.
Gazans hope the deal will not just end the fighting but also an international aid boycott.
"For four or five days we've been holding our breath. God willing, this is a permanent agreement, not a temporary truce," said Mahmoud Qassam, 27, a fish vendor who watched the signing ceremony on television with his family in their shop in the Shati refugee camp, near Haniyeh's home.
"We hope this will lead to lifting the siege," a reference to the West's cutoff of vital foreign aid after Hamas took power almost a year ago.