Palestinian factions agree to reconciliation deal
Cairo: Fifteen Palestinian factions,
including militant Islamic groups, endorsed a reconciliation
deal on Wednesday meant to end a four-year rift between the two major
Palestinian political movements, Hamas and Fatah.
The declaration paved the way for the two groups to
sign the agreement on Wednesday, then form a unity caretaker
government to prepare for national elections next year.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a
last-minute appeal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to
cancel the impending unity deal, which he called a "hard blow
to the peace process."
A draft of the document, obtained by The Associated
Press, set a goal of "ending the divisions" and promises
parliamentary and presidential elections within a year but
left key issues like control of security forces and relations
toward Israel vague.
The deal marks a major step toward ending the
divisions that have left the Palestinians split between rival
governments since 2007: the Islamist Hamas controls the Gaza
Strip, while the Western-backed, Fatah-dominated Palestinian
Authority governs the West Bank.
The Palestinians hope to establish an independent
state in both territories, located on opposite sides of
But reconciliation could also spell the end of hopes
for peace talks with Israel, which considers Hamas a terrorist
organisation and says it will not negotiate with a Palestinian
government that includes the Iranian-backed group.
Netanyahu noted Hamas' refusal to recognise Israel's
right to exist, as well as Hamas' condemnation of the US
killing of al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden.
"How is it possible to achieve peace with a
government, half of which calls for the destruction of the
state of Israel and even praises the arch-murderer Osama bin
Laden?" Netanyahu said.
He made the comments to international Mideast envoy
Tony Blair and promised to make similar appeals when he heads
to Britain and France this week, according to a statement from
Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have been stalled
since an Israeli freeze on West Bank construction expired in
September. Abbas has said he will renew talks only if Israel
halts construction of homes on occupied lands claimed by the
Frustrated with US inability to break the impasse,
Abbas has decided to focus on internal Palestinian affairs.
Fatah's chief negotiator, Azzam al-Ahmed, said 15 smaller
factions, including the violent Islamic Jihad, endorsed the
unity deal today.