GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Gaza's Hamas rulers handed over the house of the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat to officials from his Fatah party on Tuesday with the intention of turning it to a museum for the iconic leader.
The house has been closed since the Islamic militant group Hamas took over Gaza in 2007 after routing the Palestinian Authority's forces and ousting Fatah under the leadership of Arafat's successor, Mahmoud Abbas, in bloody street battles.
The ceremony, attended by officials from all Palestinian factions, took place on the eve of the anniversary of Arafat's 2004 death. During his final years, at the height of the second Palestinian Intifada, or uprising, Arafat lived under Israeli siege in the presidential compound in the West Bank town of Ramallah. After falling ill in the fall of 2004, the 75-year-old leader was flown to France, where he died in a military hospital.
After taking over the Gaza Strip, Hamas has harassed and tortured Fatah supporters and barred most of their public activities. Fatah was allowed to mark Arafat's death only once, in 2007, and Hamas used lethal force to disperse the rally, killing at least six.
But the tension between Hamas and Fatah has eased in recent months, though the Islamic movement did not authorize Fatah to hold a public rally in commemoration of Arafat's death, which falls on Nov. 11.
The two movements signed a reconciliation deal in 2014 and formed a transitional government to end the political split between Gaza and the West Bank. However, Hamas has barely given up any control in Gaza, insisting the Palestinian Authority pay salaries for some 40,000 employees Hamas hired to run Gaza since 2007.
The two parties have only made symbolic gestures. Handing over of Arafat's house was one of them.
The house, located near a security compound under Hamas' control, is full of Arafat artifacts. Old computer screens and photocopy machines sit on desks on the first floor. Arafat's military uniforms are laid out on his bed. The walls are adorned with pictures of Arafat and his wife and daughter.
It was the first time the house was opened to the media. Jameel Al-Majdalawi, a board member of the Yasser Arafat Foundation, told The Associated Press that the establishment "will work on transforming this house to a national museum for all our people, where we will collect the heritage of this peerless leader."
Palestinian factions' representatives sat on the second floor of the house, which has a wide living and dining room. Zakaria Al-Agha, the top Fatah official in Gaza, said "this house is the mother and father's home for us and we hope that Hamas follows this step with more steps to end the division."