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Palestinians to sign unity deal next week
Egypt has invited Palestinian leaders to Cairo for the signing of a unity agreement.
Gaza: Egypt has invited Palestinian leaders to Cairo next week for the signing of a unity agreement that would end rivalry among ruling factions, Palestinian officials said on Friday.
The Egyptian-brokered deal, announced unexpectedly on Wednesday, calls for forming a new government acceptable to both Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction, which is dominant in the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip Hamas's rulers.
Israel denounced the agreement, saying Abbas could not be a peace partner if he mends ties with Hamas, an Islamist group whose charter calls for the destruction of the Jewish state, but which has said it is open to a long-term ceasefire.
Western powers said the unity deal was an important step, but made clear they expect any new administration to accept international demands, which include the recognition of Israel and a renunciation of violence.
"We have always asked for reconciliation and peace between Gaza and the occupied territory (West Bank). But this can only work if it is done in the necessary environment," said Pierre Vimont, secretary-general of the diplomatic corps of the European Union.
The EU, in coordination with the United States, United Nations and Russia, has been trying to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
"What we are expecting is a clear reaffirmation of what we think are the milestones for the peace process."
The invitation from Egypt, received by factional leaders in the Gaza Strip, said the three-day ceremony will start May 2 and end with the official signing by the Western-backed Abbas and Damascus-based Hamas leader-in-exile Khaled Meshaal.
There was no immediate comment from Egyptian officials.
The surprise deal was announced as peace talks with Israel have been frozen for months and the Palestinians are pushing unilaterally for U.N. statehood recognition come September.
It calls for the formation of an interim government of independents until presidential and parliamentary elections, to be held in a year.
Hamas won the last Palestinian legislative election held in 2006. A unity government it formed with Fatah did not last long, collapsing into a brief civil war in which the Islamists seized Gaza in 2007.
Implementation of the latest agreement could be tough with both groups running their own security forces. Numerous Arab-brokered efforts in the past failed to bring the sides together.
An Egyptian security mission is expected to arrive in Gaza, likely next month, to help the two parties in implementing the agreement, officials said.
Hamas's leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, speaking after Friday prayers, called on Abbas not to let outside opposition, namely from Israel and the United States, affect the deal.
"Any Palestinian-Palestinian agreement will certainly face challenges and obstacles. But with will, determination and sincere intention, we can overcome these obstacles, especially the Israeli and American obstacle," he said.
Haniyeh also dismissed international calls and reiterated Hamas's refusal to recognise Israel.
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