Palestinian factions eye elections by end of 2018
Leading Palestinian political factions agreed Wednesday on the need to hold elections by the end of 2018, they said in a joint statement issued after two days of reconciliation talks in Cairo.
The factions called on the electoral commission to prepare for the presidential and legislative polls and also asked Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to set a date for them after consulting with all sides.
Wednesday's statement also praised a unity agreement struck between the two largest parties -- Hamas and Fatah -- in October aimed at ending a 10-year rift between them and under which Hamas is to cede power in the Gaza Strip by December 1.
The closed-door talks opened on Tuesday, aimed at pushing ahead with the reconciliation efforts, and were attended by representatives of 13 political parties.
The statement said the Egyptian-sponsored unity deal between the Islamist movement Hamas and Abbas's Fatah party was a "realistic start to end divisions".
It underscored the "importance of removing all obstacles in the path of the government's efforts to immediately assume its responsibilities towards our people".
However Hamas' deputy leader in Gaza, Salah al-Bardawil, said the conclusion of the talks was a "pale result that does not meet the aspirations of our people."
There have been no Palestinian parliamentary elections since Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007 from Fatah, which dominates the Palestinian Authority government in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Palestinian and international leaders hope implementation of the unity deal could help ease the hardships of Gaza's two million residents, who suffer from severe poverty and unemployment.
The division between Palestinian factions has also been cited as one of the largest obstacles to meaningful peace talks with the Israelis.
It faces significant stumbling blocks, in particular the future of Hamas's vast armed wing, which has fought three wars with Israel since 2008.
The Fatah-dominated Palestinian government seated in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah has also refused to remove crippling sanctions on Gaza that include reduced electricity
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Even if they hate each other Abbas could cede power to Hamas.