Rival Palestinian groups Fatah and Hamas agreed on Thursday to work together to set up a unity government after Egyptian-sponsored reconciliation talks aimed at ending long-running factional feuding.
“It is indeed a historic day,” former Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qorei said at a press conference announcing the creation of five joint committees, including one tasked with forming a national unity government.
Qorei, a member of the Fatah faction of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, said the committees, which will also cover issues such as security, national reconcilation, elections and reform of the umbrella group the Palestine Liberation Organization, would complete their work by the end of next month.
“We have started a new chapter of reconciliation and unity,” he said.
Fatah and Hamas have long been rivals but their feuding came to a head in June 2007 when the Islamist Hamas seized control of Gaza, routing forces loyal to Abbas after days of deadly street battles.
The takeover, branded a coup by Abbas, split the Palestinian territories into two separate entities and dealt a major blow to international efforts to forge a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
Earlier, officials from two smaller Palestinian factions said the groups involved in talks had agreed to form a unity government by the end of next month but Qorei did not confirm this deadline.
“No doubt some of the results of the committees will be immediately implemented, such as the government committee ... it will be immediately formed and take full charge in Gaza and the West Bank,” Hamas delegation leader Mussa Abu Marzuk told the press conference.
As part of the agreement, the factions have also agreed to release prisoners held by Hamas and Fatah and to end a war of words being played out in the media, Qorei said.
The international community has been pushing the Palestinians to try to form a government it would find acceptable, as Hamas is boycotted as a terrorist outfit by Israel and the West.
Thursday’s agreement comes just days ahead of an aid meeting for Gaza being held on Monday in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, where the Palestinians are seeking billions of dollars in assistance from international donors.
Egypt had originally called for Palestinian reconciliation talks in November, but Hamas withdrew at the last minute, complaining that Fatah was continuing to arrest Hamas members in the West Bank.
The reconciliation process was relaunched by Egypt after Israel’s 22-day war on Gaza that ended last month with more than 1,300 Palestinians killed and buildings and infrastructure throughout the impoverished territory destroyed.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, visiting Cairo on Wednesday, had called for the Palestinians to form a new government of “technocrats” to oversee political and economic reconstruction in readiness for elections.