The leaders of Fatah and Hamas, the main Palestinian factions, have signed a deal in Cairo, the Egyptian capital, in a bid to restore the unity shattered by deadly infighting in June 2007.
Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority (PA) president and Khaled Meshaal, the Hamas leader, attended the ceremony on Wednesday.
Under the terms of the deal, Hamas and Fatah agreed to:
- Form a Palestinian government made up of independent figures. The government's main tasks will include: preparation for elections; dealing with internal issues resulting from the Palestinian split; following up on Gaza reconstruction and lifting the Gaza blockade; uniting Palestinian Authority institutions in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
- Hold elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council, the presidency and the Palestinian National Council, a body representing Palestinians in the Palestinian territories and the diaspora, within a year from the date of signing.
- Agree on the makeup of a committee to oversee elections.
- Form, through consensus, a "supreme security council" made up of "professional officers" as a step towards reform of separate security forces operated by the rival administrations.
- Reconvene the Palestinian Legislative Council, which has not met since Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007.
- Free political prisoners held by the rival administrations in Gaza and West Bank. Officials on both sides
deny the presence of political detainees. A committee will look into lists of names and verify causes of their imprisonment.
Fatah's Azzam al-Ahmad first announced his faction's decision to sign a memorandum of understanding with the leadership of Hamas on April 27.
|Abbas, left, the PA president and Meshaal, right, the Hamas leader, attended the ceremony in Cairo [AFP]
The deal was formally announced in Cairo, and was co-ordinated under the mediation of Murad Muwafi, Egypt's new intelligence director.
Three committees will be formed under the deal, each with a specific issue to work on, and will have to come up with arrangements for all the factions to agree on.
The final list of members of these committees is yet to be decided.
Hamas does not Israel as a state and Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, condemned the new unity pact on Wednesday, describing it as "a tremendous blow to peace".
Sherine Tadros, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Jerusalem, said: "In all honesty ... the tremendous blow to peace came months ago when the US-sponsored talks between the PA and Israel broke down.
"And any kind of chance that perhaps there would be a settlement with Israel, and that, in fact, the siege on Gaza could be lifted, really went away at that moment.
"So the Palestinians feel right now that the only way to look is really towards themselves and sorting out their own house.
"And once they do that they can then present to the Americans, to the international community, a united front with which to negotiate a peace deal."