Hamas' exiled political leader said Monday that the militant group has agreed in principle to a proposal for reconciling with its rivals in the Fatah movement in a deal that would clear the way for new presidential and parliamentary elections.
A final deal being brokered by Egyptian mediators will be drawn up and signed in October, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal told reporters in Cairo after talks with Egypt's intelligence chief.
The Gaza Strip Hamas rulers and Fatah, which leads a separate, Western-backed government in the West Bank, have been bitterly divided since a civil war more than two years ago.
Bringing the sides together and restoring some Fatah control in the Gaza Strip could open up the blockaded and impoverished seaside territory to more aid from international donors that had shunned dealings with the militants of Hamas.
Egypt has been trying for months to broker such a deal, at first by proposing the formation of a unity government. Hamas, however, refused to be part of any Palestinian government that would involve the recognition of Israel.
Now, Egypt is proposing to bring the rivals together in an advisory committee that would have a say in running day-to-day affairs in Gaza and the West Bank until presidential and parliamentary elections can be held sometime in the first half of 2010.
The committee would be headed by Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas, who is also president of the West Bank government. Abbas' government would also be allowed to deploy 3,000 security personnel to Gaza and both sides would release each other's detainees.
"We overcame all the disagreements in the Egyptian paper," said Mashaal, who is based in Damascus, Syria.
He said the Egyptian paper "could pave the way for achieving Palestinian reconciliation, and we have responded to its spirit."
"They (Egyptians) will work on laying down a final draft for the reconciliation project in the coming few days," Mashaal said. Then, a meeting bringing together Palestinian groups will be held in Cairo in October to finalize a deal.
Mashaal said immediate reconciliation was critical "in light of what is going on in Jerusalem and the Al-Qasa Mosque." The Hamas leader was referring to Sunday's clashes between police and Muslim worshippers at the Old City's Temple Mount compound.
Mashaal also called for an end to the cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority on security-related issues in the West Bank.