An Egyptian official said the leaders of the Palestinian Hamas
and Fatah factions had agreed at talks in Cairo on Wednesday to implement a long-delayed reconciliation pact, although it was unclear if the deal would extend beyond holding more talks.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of the secular Fatah
movement based in the West Bank and Khaled Mashaal
of the Islamist Hamas group that controls the Gaza Strip met face-to-face for the first time in over a year to discuss how to implement their 2011 deal.
The rivals fell out badly when Hamas seized control of Gaza from Fatah by force in 2007. But they have drawn closer since Israel's brief war with Gaza in November, in which Hamas claimed victory, and a diplomatic win by Abbas
the same month in which the United Nations voted to recognize Palestine as a "non-member state".
Amicable meeting between Abbas and Mashaal (Archive Photo: EPA)
"It was agreed that sides would begin immediately to implement the previously agreed mechanism of the agreement signed," a senior Egyptian
official involved in the talks, who declined to be named, told Reuters by phone from Cairo.
Nabil Abu Rdaineh, a senior aide to Abbas, said the president had held a lengthy meeting with Mashaal in a "positive atmosphere". He said there was an agreement to hold more meetings, but declined to give details. No comment was immediately available from Hamas.
No meeting with Morsi
The two sides have signally failed to put into practice the deal they signed in Cairo in May 2011 to reunify the leadership of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian
The Egyptian official said discussions to find ways to do so had been held in a "positive spirit", and that the rival factions would meet again in the first week of February to work out a timetable.
Egyptian mediators had hoped to coax Abbas and Mashaal into a meeting with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi,
but in the event they met without Morsi. Abbas is reluctant to accept any format that would imply giving the Hamas leader a status equivalent to his own.
Much of the tension between the groups stems from their competing approaches to the talks with Israel.
While Hamas fundamentally rejects Israel's right to exist, but says it might consider a long-term ceasefire, Abbas rejects violence and is prepared to talk peace on certain conditions.
The two groups have also traded blame over continued arrests of Hamas members by Fatah in the West Bank,
and of Fatah members in Hamas-controlled Gaza.
The Egyptian-drafted agreement of 2011 called on Fatah and Hamas to form a unity government that would oversee an election and reform Abbas's Palestine Liberation Organization
to include Hamas and the less influential Islamic Jihad group.