Tuesday, September 18, 2018
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Hamas agrees to steps towards Palestinian unity

Group says it is ready to dissolve rival government in Gaza and enter talks with Fatah about holding general elections.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (R)

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

In a statement issued on Sunday, Hamas said it has accepted key conditions set by President Mahmoud Abbas, and would dissolve what is known as the Gaza administrative committee, a body seen as a parallel government to Abbas' Palestinian Authority.

The Palestinian Authority, controlled by Fatah and based in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, fought a war with Hamas over Gaza in 2007, which led to Hamas taking over.

Since then, the Palestinian leadership has been divided between two rival governments.

Repeated attempts at reconciliation have failed.

In its Sunday statement, Hamas invited Abbas' government to return to Gaza and said it was ready to enter talks with Fatah and hold new elections.

READ MORE: Hamas ready to reconcile with Fatah: reports

The group said it was "responding to the generous Egyptian efforts, which reflect the Egyptian desire to end the split and achieve reconciliation, and based on our desire to achieve national unity".

Egypt has been brokering talks with Fatah to implement a deal signed in 2011 in Cairo with Hamas to end their dispute and form an interim government before elections.

Hamas has been weakened by an Israeli and Egyptian blockade, three wars with Israel and international isolation.

In March, Abbas stepped up pressure on Hamas after it formed the contentious committee that runs Gaza.

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

Ismail Haniya, who heads Hamas, travelled to Cairo last week for reconciliation discussions, and Abbas sent a delegation of representatives to Egypt as well. 

Despite Sunday's announcement, any reconciliation deal would still face many obstacles.

The deal was not clear whether Hamas is ready to place its security forces under Abbas' control - a key sticking point that has scuttled past attempts. There also was no comment from Abbas' government.

The Gaza Strip, a coastal enclave of some two million people, has faced deteriorating humanitarian conditions, with a severe electricity crisis and a lack of clean water, among other issues.

Gaza's economy is in tatters and it has one of the world's highest unemployment rates.

UN officials have urged Israel to lift its decade-long blockade of Gaza. 

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