Rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah said Wednesday they had successfully drafted a reconciliation agreement that would end seven years of intra-Palestinian division.
Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh made the announcement during a televised address in Gaza, saying the Palestinian split has ended and that a general election would be held in seven months.
Similar agreements were reached in principle in the past, but never implemented.
The Islamic militant Hamas movement seized Gaza from Fatah, which is headed by President Mahmoud Abbas, in 2007, leaving the Palestinian leader with only parts of the West Bank. Both organizations have since become entrenched in their respective territories.
Bassam Salhi, a member of the delegation sent by Abbas to negotiate the deal with Hamas, said that under an emerging agreement, a joint interim government would be formed within five weeks, followed by elections six months later.
Israeli position on unity talks
Israel called off a session of talks in response to the deal with the Gaza-based Islamist group. Abbas later issued a statement saying the unity pact did not contradict peace talks he is pursuing with Israel. He said that an independent state living peacefully alongside Israel remained his goal.
Earlier Wednesday, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cautioned Abbas regarding the unity talks with Hamas, saying Abbas had to choose between peace with Israel or its Islamist enemy.
Amplifying Netanyahu's warning, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Abbas's signature on a unity accord with Hamas would be tantamount to “signing the termination of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.”
The new bid for reconciliation coincided with meetings between Palestinian and Israeli negotiators to try to extend U.S.-sponsored peace talks beyond an April 29 deadline. Sources from both sides said strong disagreements remained, after they convened in Jerusalem on Tuesday.
Netanyahu, in remarks to reporters as news of a possible unity deal emerged, asked: “Does he [Abbas] want peace with Hamas or peace with Israel?”
“You can have one, but not the other. I hope he chooses peace. So far he hasn't done so,” he said.
Abbas's spokesman, Nabil Abu Rdeineh, said Palestinian unity was an internal matter.
“Abbas chooses peace and the unity of the Palestinian people,” Abu Rdeineh said. “The choice of unifying the Palestinian people enforces peace, and there is no contradiction whatsoever between reconciliation and negotiations.”
Lieberman, in a statement released by his spokesman, said Abbas, who heads the Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in the occupied West Bank, “cannot make peace both with Israel and Hamas, a terrorist organization that calls for Israel's destruction.”
Shortly after the announcement of reconciliation, Israel launched an airstrike on the Palestinian enclave, wounding at least a dozen people, Reuters news agency, quoting medical officials and Israeli reports, said.
Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Qidra said the air strike wounded 12 people, all of them civilians, among them children between the ages of five and 12, as well as adults.
Israeli media reports said Israel had targeted a militant riding on a motorcycle in northern Gaza, from where rockets are often shot at Israel, but that he escaped.
(With Reuters and AFP)