GAZA CITY -- The two main rival factions of Palestinian politics and society announced a reconciliation deal Wednesday that would mend a seven-year rift by forming a unity government and holding new elections.
Following two days of discussions between delegations of Fatah and Hamas, leaders of the groups announced the agreement at a joint news conference.
“This is the good news to tell our people: The era of division is over,” Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh declared. Fatah leader Azzam al-Ahmad said the sides aimed at forming a national unity government within five weeks.
The transitional government is planned to be based on professionals and independent political figures, with no members of either political group.
The reconciliation agreement calls for elections for parliament and presidency to be held around six months after the unity government is formed.
Palestinian government was torn asunder in 2007, when Hamas forcefully wrested control of the Gaza Strip from the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, after the Islamist militant movement won elections the year before.
Since then, Gaza has been ruled by a Hamas government headed by Haniyeh, with the West Bank under control of the Palestinian Authority and its president, Mahmoud Abbas.
The divide has crippled Palestinian politics for years. The current push for unity comes at a time both sides need bolstering. The isolation of Hamas and Gaza has deepened as Egypt’s new government has given it the cold shoulder, and Fatah is divided on how to handle the push for Palestinian statehood, among other things.
Reconciliation agreements between the rival groups have been reached in the past but not implemented.
Israel rejects Hamas as a terrorist group. The international community has demanded Hamas that renounce violence and recognize Israel and past Israeli-Palestinian agreements.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that Abbas "must choose between peace with Israel and peace with Hamas, a murderous terror organization that calls for Israel’s destruction and is defined as a terror organization by the U.S. and EU. This evening, while talks to extend the negotiations are still being held, Abu Mazen has chosen Hamas and not peace. Anyone choosing Hamas does not want peace.”
The statement from Netanyahu’s office announced the meeting of the negotiating teams scheduled for the evening had been canceled. The teams had been struggling to find a formula that would allow extending troubled peace talks about to expire next week with no agreement and deep discord.
As the Palestinian accord was being announced, Israel’s air force struck targets in Gaza, injuring at least six people, according to Palestinian reports. Israel’s military said the strike was aimed at it stopping what it described as imminent plans to launch rockets at Israel.
Later Wednesday, several rockets were launched toward southern Israel. No injuries were reported.
Special correspondents Sobelman reported from Jerusalem and Abu Alouf from Gaza City.