The Palestinian Arab Fatah and Hamas factions have signed a reconciliation deal in Algiers, vowing to hold elections by next October in their latest attempt to end a rift that has now lasted more than 15 years, AFP reported.
The deal was signed on Thursday by a leading figure from the Fatah Party of Palestinian Authority (PA) chairman Mahmoud Abbas and by the chief of Hamas, which rules Gaza. Abbas himself was not present.
"We signed this agreement to get rid of the malignant cancer of division that has entered the Palestinian body," said the head of the Fatah delegation, Azzam al-Ahmed, according to AFP.
"We are optimistic that it will be implemented and will not remain ink on paper."
Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh said it was "a day of joy in Palestine and Algeria and for those who love the Palestinian cause, but a day of sadness for the Zionist entity (Israel)".
Hamas and Fatah have been at odds since 2007, when Hamas violently took control of Gaza in a bloody coup, and all attempts to reconcile the sides have failed.
A unity government between Hamas and Fatah collapsed in 2015 when Abbas decided to dissolve it amid a deepening rift between the sides.
Hamas and Fatah signed a reconciliation agreement in October of 2017, as part of which Hamas was to transfer power in Gaza by December 1 of that year.
That deadline was initially put back by 10 days and later reportedly hit “obstacles”. It has never been implemented.
Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, who mediated Thursday's deal, noted in a speech at the signing ceremony in the Algerian capital's Palace of Nations that Yasser Arafat had used the same building to announce the independence of the “State of Palestine” in 1988.
Under Thursday's "Algiers Declaration", also signed by other major Palestinian Arab factions, elections will take place for the presidency and for the Palestinian Legislative Council, which acts as a parliament for Palestinians in the occupied territories.
It also stipulates elections for the Palestinian National Council, a parliament for Palestinian Arabs including in the millions-strong diaspora. Algeria agreed to host the Council.
PA elections were scheduled for last year, but Abbas officially announced that they would be postponed. While he cited Israel’s refusal to allow Arabs residing in eastern Jerusalem to vote as the reason for the postponement, many believe that the real reason is Abbas’ fear that he would lose the elections to Hamas.
The PA has continuously demanded that Israel permit Arabs residing in eastern Jerusalem to vote in the elections. In this regard, PA officials worked in the international arena in an attempt to get Israel to agree to this demand.
(Israel National News' North American desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Israel National News articles, however, is Israeli time.)