Palestinian rivals Fatah, Hamas to share power

Rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas have reportedly reached an agreement to end their four-year rift by forming a caretaker government and holding new elections next year, according to Palestinian officials and a statement from Egypt's intelligence service, which helped broker the talks.

The agreement, which was expected to be announced Wednesday night, came after several days of secret meetings between the two sides.

Though it remained unclear whether the factions had resolved all their differences, a deal could mark the start of reunification between Fatah, the mainstream, secular party that controls the West Bank, and Hamas, the Islamist militant group that rules the Gaza Strip.

After a brief armed clash in 2007, the two factions' unity government collapsed and each set up rival governments, prime ministers and security forces.

Both factions have been under growing pressure from the Palestinian public to end their rift, which many complain has distracted from efforts to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and win statehood. Opinion polls show that Palestinians blame both parties for the fracture and rank the division among their most serious problems.

Recent unrest in neighboring Arab nations has increased worries among Palestinian officials of a rebellion against their rule.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad are also eager to end the strife as they prepare to ask the United Nations in September to recognize Palestinian statehood.

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