World Bulletin/News Desk
Palestinian factions have signed a deal that aims to end the longstanding schism between rivals Fatah and Hamas, according to which a new government will be formed within weeks with simultaneous presidential and parliamentary polls to follow later this year.
"I congratulate our people on the end of years of Palestinian division," Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh told a press conference at his home in Gaza City also attended by members of a Fatah-led delegation from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which was dispatched to Gaza by President Mahmoud Abbas.
Haniyeh said both sides had agreed on the terms of two previous agreements, signed between Fatah and Hamas in Cairo and Doha.
Under the deal, Haniyeh said, Abbas will immediately begin consultations for the formation of a national unity government with a view to unveiling it within five weeks.
Six months after the formation of the government, presidential and parliamentary polls will be held simultaneously in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, Haniyeh added.
Elections for the PLO's national council, he said, would also be held at the same time.
According to the terms of the deal, Abbas has the right to set the dates for the polls, as long as they're held at least six months after the formation of the national unity government.
Haniyeh asserted that both Abbas and Khaled Meshaal, head of Hamas' political bureau, had given the deal their blessings.
Scores of Palestinians took to the streets of Gaza City on Wednesday to celebrate a deal between rival factions Hamas and Fatah ending years of division.
Waving the flags of Hamas and Fatah, revelers gathered in western Gaza City and called on the two factions to overcome pressures and achieve inter-Palestinian reconciliation.
Israel cancelled a scheduled meeting with Palestinian negotiators on the background of a reconciliation deal between rival Fatah and Hamas groups.
"Israel cancelled the negotiation meeting that was supposed to take place this evening," Israeli government spokesman Ofir Gendelman was quoted by the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth as saying.
It was not immediately clear whether the Israeli decision includes negotiations with the Palestinian side as a whole.
Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Ze'ev Elkin claimed that the deal between Hamas and Fatah aims to destroy Israel.
In 2011, Hamas and Fatah hammered out a reconciliation deal under Egyptian sponsorship. The following year, the two sides agreed to form a unity government – to be headed up by Abbas – to pave the way for parliamentary polls.
The terms of that agreement, however, were never implemented.
Ties have remained strained between Hamas – which governs the Gaza Strip – and Fatah – which runs the Palestinian Authority – since 2007, when Hamas routed pro-Fatah forces and seized control of the entire strip.
Continued conflict between Hamas and Fatah obliged the former to set up its own government in Gaza, while Fatah did the same in Ramallah in the West Bank.
Earlier this year, Haniyeh declared 2014 to be "the year of Palestinian reconciliation," announcing that Fatah members who fled the Gaza Strip in 2007 were welcome to return, with the exception of those charged with wrongdoing.
WHITE HOUSE 'DISAPPOINTED', QATAR CONGRULATES
The United States said on Wednesday it was disappointed by a unity pact agreed between the Gaza-based Islamist group Hamas and President Mahmoud Abbas's Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and said it could seriously complicate peace efforts.
"The timing was troubling and we were certainly disappointed in the announcement," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a regular news briefing.
"This could seriously complicate our efforts. Not just our efforts but the efforts of the parties to extend their negotiations."
Meanwhile Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid al-Atiyahon congratulated Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh on a deal to end Palestinian divisions.
"The Qatari foreign minister has sent a cable of congratulations to Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh on the deal to end the [inter-Palestinian] schism," Haniyeh's spokesman Taher al-Nounou told Anadolu Agency in Gaza.