The rival Palestinian groups Hamas and Fatah have agreed to form a unity government. If implemented, the surprise accord could be a first step towards Palestinian statehood.
The Palestinian flag may again represent a unified government
Officials say rival Palestinian groups Hamas and Fatah have reached an agreement on forming an interim unity government and holding general elections.
They said the deal was brokered by Egypt and followed secret talks between the two sides.
The head of Fatah's negotiating team in Cairo said elections for the unity government were to begin in eight months' time.
A senior Hamas leader who took part in the talks, Mahmoud al-Zahar, told Al Jazeera television the agreement covered five points, including elections, forming a government made up of "nationalist" figures and combining security forces.
Abbas has sought Hamas' cooperation to hold new elections
He also said Hamas and Fatah had agreed to free prisoners held by each side.
The accord is due to be implemented after an official signing ceremony in Cairo that is expected to take place in early May.
The two groups, always rivals, have been even more at loggerheads since 2006, when the secular Fatah party, headed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, was defeated by the Islamist Hamas in democratic parliamentary elections.
Feuding between the sides culminated in Hamas taking over the Gaza Strip by force in 2007.
Since then, Fatah has controlled the West Bank, while Hamas continues to rule the Gaza Strip.
Observers say the split is a major obstacle to Palestinian statehood.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted to reports of the deal by calling on Abbas to “choose between peace with Israel or peace with Hamas.” Israel has long opposed any moves by Fatah to form a government with Hamas, as Hamas refuses to recognise Israel and renounce violence.
Washington also warned that any Palestinian unity government must renounce violence.
Author: Timothy Jones (Reuters, AFP)
Editor: Susan Houlton