Hamas agrees to steps towards Palestinian unity

Ismail Haniya was elected as Hamas leader in May 2017MAHMUD HAMS

Hamas said in statement that it wants the rival Fatah to return to Gaza and conduct nationwide elections, which haven't been held since 2006.

Paving the way for possible reconciliation between the West Bank and Gaza, Hamas said Sunday it would dissolve the Gaza administrative committee, allowing a Palestinian unity government to work in its place and move toward general elections.

Hamas agreed to dissolve the administrative committee it had formed in March previous year to run the daily affairs in the Gaza Strip, the coastal enclave that Hamas has been ruling since it had violently taken control of it in the summer of 2007.

The Palestinians have been divided between two rival governments since 2007, when Hamas drove Abbas' forces out of the Gaza Strip, leaving the president in control only of autonomous areas of the West Bank. Previous efforts to heal the rift between Fatah, which controls the West Bank, and Hamas, which the U.S. and Israel see as a terrorist organization, have failed.

Earlier this week, Hamas already showed its readiness to dissolve the committee and to transmit its powers to the unity government.

"Hamas invites the consensus government to come to Gaza to practice its mission and carry out its duties in the Gaza Strip immediately, and it accepts holding the general elections", the statement by Hamas said.

Hamas on Tuesday said it was ready to reconciliation talks with the Fatah without preconditions.

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It also said that Hamas movement is ready to response to the Egyptian invitation to resume the dialogue soon with Fatah Party on the mechanisms of the full implementation of Cairo Reconciliation Agreement that was reached between the two sides in May 2011.

Israel's increasing restrictions on exit permits for Gaza residents, an escalating sewage crisis that is contaminating the strip's beaches, and high levels of unemployment, are all contributing to a mounting sense of exhaustion in the strip.

Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, including Hamas, have fought three wars since 2008.

Hoping to pressure Hamas into relinquishing control of Gaza, Mr Abbas cut payments to Israel for the electricity it supplies to Gaza.

Cairo's efforts had presented a "historic opportunity" that could lead to a new Palestinian election and ultimately statehood, a spokesman told the official news agency WAFA.

Despite Sunday's announcement, however, any reconciliation deal faces many obstacles.

There also was no comment from Abbas' government. The decision of Hamas to finally hold negotiations with Fatah may indicate first steps towards reconciliation.

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