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Palestinian rivals agree to unification steps

January 17, 2013|By Maher Abukhater
  • Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, center, shown reviewing the honor guards during a visit Sunday to Tunis, Tunisia, will head a new unity government under an agreement announced Thursday between his Fatah movement and Hamas.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, center, shown reviewing… (European Pressphoto Agency )

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas have reached agreement on steps to bridge their years-long divide, including the formation of a unity government by month's end, mediators and officials with the two groups said Thursday in Cairo.

The two Palestinian factions, which have been at odds since Hamas fighters drove Fatah's forces from the Gaza Strip in 2007, have been holding on-again, off-again reconciliation talks for more than a year. Their goal has been to politically reunite the West Bank, which is under Fatah control, and the Gaza Strip, ruled by Hamas.

They have previously announced agreements, only to have the arrangements later fall apart.

According to a statement issued by Egyptian mediators, the two sides “have agreed on a timeline to start implementing all issues related to the reconciliation, starting today and ending at the most by Jan. 30.”

Fatah delegate Azzam Ahmad and Izzat Rishq of Hamas echoed the statement that a timeline had been established toward implementing the accord.

The two sides agreed to form a new government of technocrats to rule both Palestinian areas, which will be headed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah. No other members of Hamas and Fatah governments in place since the split will take part.

Negotiators also agreed to resume voter registration in the Gaza Strip in preparation for holding presidential and legislative elections. Hamas suspended the work of the elections commission in the coastal area in July.

The two sides also agreed to resume work toward the release of detained members and to cease making arrests.

The statement released Thursday said Egypt will work to help overcome any obstacles that might arise over the coming weeks. One unresolved issue that could require further Egyptian mediation: the future of both sides' security forces.

The disrupted talks on reconciliation resumed last week after a meeting between Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Cairo, during which the two leaders reportedly worked out their differences.

Israel, which is holding national elections next week, has strongly objected to Palestinian reconciliation, warning of dire consequences to Abbas if he forms a unity government with Hamas, which it considers a terrorist organization.

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