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Hamas agrees to steps towards Palestinian unity

17 September 2017

The Hamas militant group on Sunday said it has accepted key conditions demanded by its rival, President Mahmoud Abbas, including nationwide elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, to clear the way for a reconciliation deal after a 10-year rift that has left the Palestinians divided between two governments.

Hamas's leadership held talks with Mohammed Dahlan - the exiled former Fatah leader in Gaza whose supporters Hamas defeated when it wrested control of the territory in the 2007 civil war - amid hopes he could persuade Egypt to come to the aid of Gazans struggling under the decade-long Israeli-led blockade.

Attempts to reconcile the two and form a power-sharing unity government in Gaza and the West Bank have so far failed.

This decision was reportedly a response to the Egyptian efforts.

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In its Sunday statement, Hamas invited Abbas' government to return to Gaza and said it was ready to enter talks with Fatah and hold new elections.

Relations between Hamas and Fatah have remain strained despite a 2014 agreement to form a national reconciliation government.

Hamas formed the committee in March, and since then Abbas has sought to put further pressure on the Islamist movement, reducing electricity payments for the Gaza Strip among other measures.

Hamas has been weakened by an Israeli and Egyptian blockade, three wars with Israel and worldwide isolation.

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The announcement comes after talks in Cairo last week with Egyptian officials in which Hamas chief Ismail Haniya agreed to take such steps, a Hamas official has said. It also represents Hamas' aspiration to get a seat at the table should President Donald Trump's efforts at restoring the "peace process" with Israel succeed.

The Gaza Strip has faced deteriorating humanitarian conditions, with a severe electricity crisis and a lack of clean water, among other issues.

Gaza's economy is in tatters and it has one of the world's highest unemployment rates.

United Nations officials have called for the blockade to be lifted, but Israel says it is necessary to stop Hamas from obtaining weapons or materials that could be used to make them.

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Hamas agrees to steps towards Palestinian unity