Mar 25, 11:56 AM EDT

Palestinian premier heads to Gaza on reconciliation mission



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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) -- The Palestinian Prime Minister kicked off a visit to the Gaza Strip on Wednesday in a renewed effort to resolve an eight-year rift with the rival Hamas militant group, which controls the tiny coastal territory.

Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah entered Gaza on Wednesday through an Israel-controlled border crossing. He told reporters he is seeking a resolution to the dispute between Hamas and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah faction.

Abbas' Western-backed Palestinian Authority governs parts of the West Bank, while Hamas remains in control of Gaza. Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007 after ousting Abbas' forces.

Fatah and Hamas agreed last year on the formation of a "national reconciliation" government, with Hamdallah as premier, meant to end their dispute. But the deal has never been fully implemented, leaving the Palestinians divided between two governments.

Under the deal, Hamas agreed to step aside and give its backing to a new government of apolitical technocrats. In reality, the militant group remains in firm control of Gaza as the sides continue to wrangle over Abbas' demands that he take control over Gaza's border crossings and that his forces oversee security in the volatile territory. Hamas has refused to give up an arsenal that includes thousands of rockets.

Hamas, meanwhile, is demanding that the Palestinian Authority take responsibility for paying thousands of government employees. The cash-strapped militant group has not been able to pay the full salaries of its workers in months.

The rift has delayed reconstruction following Hamas' war against Israel last summer, which left tens of thousands of people homeless.

Hamdallah, making his second trip to Gaza as prime minister, vowed to find a solution for the underpaid civil servants.

"We will not leave any of the employees out in the streets," he said. "This is a promise from the president and the Palestinian government."

He added, however, that no solution to the larger Hamas-Fatah dispute will be found until Hamas grants the unity government control over the borders and "real control" over Gaza.

No major breakthroughs were expected during Hamdallah's visit. He is to return to the West Bank on Thursday or Friday.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri accused the unity government of discriminating against Gaza. "It must take real measures to atone this sin," he said.

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