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Arab spring pushes Palestinian rivals Hamas and Fatah to reconcile

But many are skeptical that the accord will hold, given that huge differences remain between Fatah and Hamas, and Israel is strongly opposed to Palestinian unity.

By Correspondent / April 27, 2011

Chief Fatah negotiator for the reconciliation talks Azzam al-Ahmed (l.) sits next to Hamas leaders Moussa Abu Marzoug, center, and Mahmoud Al Zahar (r.) during a news conference in Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, April 27.

Khalil Hamra/AP

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Cairo

Rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah say they've agreed to end a four-year rift. If the agreement holds, it could pave the way for the first Palestinian elections since 2006 and end a period of simmering hostilities that have weakened both the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas government in Gaza.

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In a deal brokered by Egypt, the two sides agreed in principle to form an interim government made up of “independents” and to hold elections in a year, officials said at a press conference. Officials said they would formally ink the deal within weeks.

The breakthrough comes as regional change has jarred calcified Palestinian positions. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have watched regional revolutions and held small protests against their own leaders, whom they see as unaccountable and corrupt. They've also urged the factions to put aside their differences for the sake of creating a Palestinian state. That has dragged Fatah's Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas's Khaled Mashaal back to the negotiating table.

Yet many observers are skeptical that the deal will hold, particularly when its comes to implementation.

“Looking at the past four years, at the lack of trust, the lack of confidence, the incitement on both sides, it makes every reasonable person question whether this will be implemented on the ground,” says Mkhaimer Abusada, political science professor at Al Azhar University in Gaza. But while they face obstacles, it appears that “both Hamas and Fatah have reached the point that there is no other choice but to end the divide and bring about Palestinian unity,” he says.

Schism developed in 2007

The schism between Hamas and Fatah opened in 2007, when Hamas wrested control of Gaza from Fatah in a bloody conflict. Since then, Fatah has controlled the West Bank and Hamas has ruled Gaza. The divide has complicated efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. Egypt, under the rule of former President Hosni Mubarak, tried unsuccessfully for years to bring the two Palestinian factions together. Some Hamas officials were skeptical he was an honest broker however, since Mubarak detested their movement, an offshoot of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.

The quick success of the new government in brokering a deal will be a source of pride for Egypt, whose regional influence has declined.

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