Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh called on Tuesday for presidential, parliamentary and National Council elections as soon as possible to demonstrate commitment to national reconciliation. Speaking at a conference about the Palestinian media and challenges held in Gaza, Haniyeh called for 2014 to be the "Year of Reconciliation". He said that each Palestinian faction should "do its utmost to end the political division and unite the occupied West Bank with the Gaza Strip."
Turning to Israel's Judaisation policies in occupied Jerusalem, Mr Haniyeh said that a national strategy has to be developed to counter its effects. The strategy, he added, should also cover the slow annexation of the Jordan Valley and expanding settlements across the occupied West Bank. Such a united effort can challenge the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip since 2006.
"We have good common ground to start with," said the prime minister. "We have the reconciliation agreements brokered by Egypt and Qatar."
Announcing the formation of municipal councils in the Gaza Strip based on the national agreement, Mr Haniyeh described it as a "goodwill gesture" ahead of tangible measures towards a comprehensive national agreement. "I hope that this happens in the West Bank."
Regarding relations with Egypt, he reiterated that contacts with the Egyptian leadership had not stopped and that his government and movement do not interfere in the internal affairs of any country. "We cannot detach ourselves from Egypt, but nor can Egypt leave us suffering," he insisted.
Rival faction Fatah has said that Hamas should detach itself from the Muslim Brotherhood following the latter's designation as a "terrorist organisation" by the interim Egyptian government. In response, the Hamas premier stressed that the movement's ideology is that of "moderate" Islamists.
"I cannot imagine that Egypt and Arab brothers are going to punish Hamas, which has sacrificed thousands of martyrs, stood steadfast in the face of the Israeli project and undermined Israeli plans in the region," he said.
The prime minister criticised the international silence regarding the ongoing blockade of the Palestinian refugees in Syria. "It is unethical that the world is looking silently at the massacres by starvation in the Palestinian refugee camps," he said, citing Al-Yarmouk in the Damascus suburbs as an example.
Despite the strict Israeli blockade, Mr Haniyeh announced 10,000 employment opportunities for graduates in the Gaza Strip. The first group of 5,000 will start work after the New Year, he revealed.
In closing, the prime minister confirmed his government's and movement's commitment to freedom of expression, although he suggested that journalists should put national interests above their personal feelings.
MEMO Photographer: Mohammed Asad.
Some images from Ismail Haniyeh's photographer