"We return to Gaza in order to conclude reconciliation and national unity and end the painful impacts of divisions and to rebuild Gaza brick by brick," says Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah in his visit to the Gaza Strip.
Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah on Monday crossed into the Gaza Strip for his first visit in two years in a move towards reconciliation between Hamas and the mainstream Fatah party.
Hamas announced last week that it was handing over administrative control of the Gaza Strip to a unity government headed by Hamdallah.
But the movement's armed wing remains the dominant power in the Palestinian enclave of two million people.
"We return to Gaza in order to conclude reconciliation and national unity and end the painful impacts of divisions and to rebuild Gaza brick by brick," Hamdallah said at a welcoming ceremony.
"The government began to exercise its roles in Gaza from today," he said at a press conference at the crossing.
"We return to Gaza again to end the division and achieve unity."
He was welcomed by thousands of people, with hopes that this reconciliation plan can avoid the problems that wrecked several previous attempts.
Hamas politicians and members of the premier's Fatah faction greeted Hamdallah on arrival.
The delegation's visit is seen as largely symbolic and preparing the ground for further talks, probably in Cairo.
The outcome will determine the Palestinians' acceptance on the international stage.
Forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas lost control of Gaza in fighting with Hamas in 2007.
Hamas' reversal was the most significant step towards Palestinian unity since the government was formed in 2014.
It failed to function in Gaza – where Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008 – because of disputes between Hamas and Fatah over its responsibilities.
Narrowing internal divisions could help western-backed Abbas counter Israel's argument that it has no negotiating partner for peace with the Palestinians, analysts said.
"We came with instructions from Abbas to tell the world from the heart of Gaza that the Palestinian state cannot and will not be established without geographical and political unity between Gaza and the West Bank," Hamdallah said.
TRT World speaks to journalist Maha Elbanna in Gaza for the latest.
"Day of Eid"
A Hamas police honour guard and hundreds of Palestinians, many of them waving Palestinian flags, awaited Hamdallah outside the Hamas-controlled checkpoint, down the road from Israel's Erez border crossing through which the prime minister and his motorcade passed.
"It is a day of Eid, a national holiday," said Abdel-Majid Ali, 46.
"We hope this time reconciliation is for real."
"The road ahead will be long and hard, but momentum of reconciliation and peace should not be missed," Nickolay Mladenov, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process wrote on Twitter.
The road ahead will be long and hard, but the momentum for #reconciliation and #peace should not be missed. #Gaza #Palestine pic.twitter.com/fLB7Rk9PX3— Nickolay E. MLADENOV (@nmladenov) October 2, 2017
Former Gaza security chief
The unity drive also marked a return to prominence of exiled former Gaza security chief Mohammed Dahlan, once one of Hamas' fiercest enemies and now a leading figure in regional efforts to pull the territory back into the Palestinian mainstream.
Dahlan, based since 2011 in the United Arab Emirates, is behind an influx of cash to prop up Gaza and detente between Hamas and Arab states including Egypt, which hosted reconciliation talks.
Hamdallah was scheduled to hold talks with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and tour Shejaia, a neighbourhood heavily damaged by Israeli bombardment in a 2014 war with Gaza militants.
On Tuesday, the Palestinian unity cabinet will meet in Gaza.
"The agenda is crowded with ideas and projects," Culture Minister Ehad Bseisso said.
"We need to ... push the wheel of reconciliation forward, to create a positive atmosphere."
In addition to setting a date for holding presidential and parliamentary elections, the factions will have to resolve the issue of the fate of the 40,000 to 50,000 civil and military staff Hamas had hired since 2007.
Michael Oren, deputy minister for diplomacy in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet, played down the unity drive, saying "it happens every two or three years" and that Hamas remains dedicated to Israel's destruction.
"One of the issues is whether Hamas will be able to retain its arms. If it does then it's a non-starter for Israel," he said.
Abbas' pressure over the past several months on Hamas to loosen its grip included halting electricity payments to Israeli suppliers, a sanction that caused extensive daily blackouts in Gaza.
Abbas also cut wages to civil servants still on the unity government's payroll, a move that deepened economic hardship in an area long under partial blockade by Israel and Egypt, which cite security concerns for border restrictions.