Hamas, Fatah to form interim government of "independents" (UPDATE)

Arab World Materials 28 April 2011 03:26 (UTC +04:00)

Details added (first version posted at 22:31)

Palestinian rival factions Hamas and Fatah agreed on Wednesday to form an interim government in the lead-up to elections, in a reconciliation deal mediated by Egyptian intelligence, dpa reported.

"We signed the minutes of the agreement based on the Egyptian reconciliation paper, with the addition of the formation of an interim government and fixing a date for elections," Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmad said in Cairo.

The agreement calls for the interim government to be constituted by "independents" of whom both groups approve. The caretaker government will set the stage for elections in one year to form a unity government.

"The real work will start with the meeting of all Palestinians next week," senior Hamas official Musa Abu Marzuka said.

Egyptian intelligence chief Murad Muwafi mediated the unannounced talks between the Hamas and Fatah delegations, led by Abu Marzuka and al-Ahmad.

Israel expressed its opposition to the agreement, warning Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who leads the Fatah party, that reconciliation with Hamas would make peace with Israel impossible.

"The Palestinian Authority must choose either peace with Israel or peace with Hamas," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement from his office. "It cannot have both, because Hamas aims to destroy the state of Israel and says so openly."

Fatah's al-Ahmad accused Israel of "using this division as a way to avoid committing to resolutions by the international community."

"Hamas is a part of the Palestinian people," he said.

The US was waiting for further details regarding the caretaker government, while reiterating that it considers Hamas to be a terrorist organization that targets civilians, according to a White House National Security Council statement.

Egypt has repeatedly mediated talks between Fatah and Hamas since the rival factions began feuding in 2006, when the Islamist movement Hamas unexpectedly beat the secular Fatah party in parliamentary elections.

The Hamas victory ended decades of Fatah domination of Palestinian politics and was seen by many as a protest by Palestinian voters against widespread corruption within the Fatah establishment.

The political feud spilled over into violent street clashes from time to time, culminating in Hamas violently seizing control of the Gaza Strip in 2007.

It is unclear whether the surprise agreement is linked to Palestinian plans to push in September for United Nations recognition of a Palestinian state.

The plan is to obtain General Assembly support for a state within the pre-1967 Israel-Arab war borders, meaning in the West Bank and Gaza.

Hamas refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist, and the group's charter calls for an Islamic state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean.

A more moderate stream within Hamas has said it is willing to accept a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip only, as a first, temporary step, in return not for settling the conflict but a truce lasting several generations.