Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, has pledged to step down when fresh elections are held [EPA]

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, has said he is willing to visit the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip in an effort to promote reconciliation between the rival Fatah and Hamas factions.

In a speech on Wednesday, Abbas also said he won't run for re-election. Abbas' plan includes fresh elections for both presidency and parliament within six months.

This is the first time Abbas has said explicitly he won't seek another term.

However, it's not clear that elections will be held because Abbas says they cannot take place if the West Bank and Gaza don't reunite.

Abbas has not been in Gaza since Hamas fighters overran the territory in June 2007, leaving his Fatah party controlling only the West Bank.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians attended rallies in Gaza and the West Bank on Tuesday to call for a national dialogue between the two factions.

Crowds in Ramallah and Gaza City urged leaders to put their differences aside in the cause of Palestinian unity.

Al Jazeera's Nicole Johnston reporting from Gaza said Abbas was responding to an offer by Ismail Haniya, the Hamas leader and Gaza prime minister, to hold unity talks in Gaza.

"Abbas says he will travel to Gaza, an announcement Hamas welcomed saying they have not had direct contact with him and are waiting for his arrival."

Our correspondent said both sides have been talking about national reconciliation for a long time but nothing has happened so far.

"A lot of people on both sides have been quite sceptical and are waiting to see if this development progresses into anything."

Johnston also said demonstrations by students of Al-Azhar University in Gaza, which is affiliated to Fatah, were brutally broken up by Hamas.

"They [Hamas] closed the university gates, barred students from leaving, while men in plain clothes with sticks beat up students and journalists in trying to clear the area.

"Students in Gaza are very sceptical because they say that on one hand Hamas is calling for national reconciliation and on the other it is breaking up demonstrations demanding the same thing."

Source: Agencies