The Palestinian Fatah party has agreed to form a unity Government with Hamas during clandestine talks brokered by Egypt.
The deal between the two former rivals, which has taken many officials by surprise, was confirmed by the Hamas government spokesman in Gaza, Taher Al-Noono: “The two sides signed initial letters on an agreement. All points of differences have been overcome.”
He said that the Egyptian authorities would invite both sides to a signing ceremony within a week.
Egyptian intelligence sources said that the two parties had agreed to set up an interim agreement with specific tasks and to set a date for an election.
In February the President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas called for presidential and legislative elections before September, in a move which was rejected by Hamas at the time.
Fatah holds power in the occupied West Bank while Hamas, which won the last parliamentary election in 2006, routed Abbas’ forces in 2007 to seize control of the Gaza Strip.
The announcement was met with criticism from Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned on Wednesday that “the Palestinian Authority [run by Fatah] must choose either peace with Israel or peace with Hamas. There is no possibility for peace with both.”
His warning was dismissed by Mr Al-Noono of Hamas, who said: “Israel is not concerned with Palestinian reconciliation and has been an impediment to it in the past.”
The unexpectedness of the announcement was evident in Washington, where a spokesman said in a statement that the White House was seeking more information, adding: “the United States supports Palestinian reconciliation on terms which promote the cause of peace. Hamas, however, is a terrorist organization which targets civilians.”
The statement went on to call for a recognition of conditions laid down by the group known as the ‘Quartet’ (the United Nations, European Union, Russia and the USA), which has been attempting to forge a peaceful solution to the Middle East conflict: “To play a constructive role in achieving peace, any Palestinian government must accept the Quartet principles and renounce violence, abide by past agreements and recognize Israel’s right to exist.”