Hamas Agrees to Fatah Talks on Palestinian Unity

Hamas paves way for Palestinian elections as it signals readiness to end Fatah feud

Hamas has agreed to talks with the rival Fatah movement to form a unity government and hold general elections in the Palestinian territories.

Hamas has run Gaza since 2007, when it forced troops loyal to Abbas from the coastal enclave a year after defeating his Fatah movement in parliamentary elections.

Hamas said on Sunday that it had dissolved its administrative committee running Gaza, making way for the arrival of officials from the unity government, who would take control of the area.

"There will be tangible practical steps in the next few days, starting with the Palestinian national unity government resuming its work according to law in Gaza as it does in the West Bank", Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmad said.

The conflict between Hamas and Fatah escalated in 2007, leading to a split and Hamas' takeover of the Gaza Strip.

It added that it had decided to make the announcement in response to Egyptian efforts to achieve reconciliation and end internal Palestinian divisions.

Hamas has been greatly weakened by three losing armed conflicts with Israel since 2008, global isolation and one of the world's highest unemployment rates.

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Hamas' announcement means that the group has accepted key demands set by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas - whose presidency expired in 2009 - for ending the Fatah-Hamas split.

Punishing measures included reducing electricity payments for the Gaza strip and cutting salaries for civil servants there.

In May 2011, President Mahmoud Abbas and former Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal signed in Cairo a reconciliation agreement that included the formation of a unity government that prepares for general elections within six months; however, the two sides failed to implement it immediately.

However, in a statement made on Monday following a meeting with Egyptian officials in Cairo, the group said it was prepared to start talks with Fatah.

Despite Sunday's announcement, any reconciliation deal faces many obstacles. The decision of Hamas to finally hold negotiations with Fatah may indicate first steps towards reconciliation.

Representatives for Abbas, who is in NY ahead of the U.N. General Assembly this week, could not be reached for comment, nor could Fatah representatives presently in Egypt, which has been hosting talks with Hamas.

United Nations officials have called for the blockade to be lifted, but Israel says it is necessary to stop Hamas from obtaining weapons or materials that could be used to make them.

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