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Middle East

Palestinians celebrate unity deal

media Khaled Meshaal (L) with Mahmoud Abbas (R) REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

Young Palestinians celebrated in the Bank and Gaza after rival factions, Hamas and Fatah, signed a reconciliation agreement which will mean an interim government and presidential and legislative elections. Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said that the Islamic movement will work for a sovereign state of both areas with Jerusalem as its capital.

In Gaza about 700 people rallied to hail the deal, which united several Palestinian factions and was signed in Cairo, with similar scenes in Ramallah on the West Bank. Some Fatah flags, which have been banned in Gaza since fighting erupted between the two factions in 2007, appeared at the Gaza rally along with the Palestinian national flag and that of Hamas.

Hamas TV resumed broadcasting in the West Bank and the Palestinian Authority began transmitting in Gaza for the first time in four years.

Dossier: Gaza 2009

Negotiations on the make-up of the new government, which is supposed to be composed of “technocrats”, were due to start as soon as the agreement was signed.

“Our only fight is with Israel,” Meshaal declared after the signing. Hamas will work for "the establishment of an independent sovereign Palestinian state on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with Jerusalem as its capital and without giving up an inch nor the right of return,” he said.

The Palestinians have decided to "turn the black page of division forever," Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas said. He said that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahi must now "choose between [building] settlements and peace," and accused Israel of opposing the Palestinian reconciliation accord as "a pretext to avoid peace negotiations".

Before starting on a tour of Europe to call for opposition to the agreement, Netanyahu told former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair that Abbas must "completely cancel" it, categorising the deal as a “hard blow to the peace process". He is to meet French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday.

But a confidential document produced by Israel’s foreign ministry said that the agreement could be a "strategic opportunity to create genuine change in the Palestinian context", according to Haaretz newspaper.

Israel is furious that Hamas’s charter refuses to recognise it.

Before the signing, Abbas made it clear that Hamas would not have to amend the charter.

Palestinian officials say the new government's role will be to manage the Palestinian territories, while the Palestine Liberation Organisation, of which Hamas is not a member, will remain in charge of peace talks with Israel.

Among the first tasks to be tackled is the establishment of a higher security council which is to examine ways to integrate Hamas and Fatah's rival security forces and to create a "professional" security service.

The accord also calls for the creation of an electoral tribunal and for the release of a number of prisoners held by the rival movements in jails in the West Bank and Gaza.

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