Palestinian rivals Fatah, Hamas sign pact

People gather as the convoy of Palestinian prime minister Rami Hamdallah arrives to take control of Gaza from Hamas in the northern part of the territory

Rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas have signed a reconciliation deal - the biggest step forward in intra-Palestinian relations in a decade.

Details of the agreement have not yet been released and a news conference was being planned for Thursday at 10:00 GMT in the Egyptian capital, where talks have been taking place since Tuesday. But last month Hamas agreed to cede powers in Gaza to President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah-backed government in a deal mediated by Egypt. Over the past few weeks, Palestinian Premier Rami Hamdallah with the government travelled for the first time in over two years to Gaza to start procedures to gain control of the Strip.

A split between Palestine's two major forces, Fatah and Hamas, occurred after the parliamentary elections in Palestine in 2006 when Hamas won.

The issue of introducing a joint PA, Hamas presence at Gaza's border crossings is key in efforts to encourage Israel and Egypt to lift the economic blockade that is now in place over the strip. Abbas has said he would not take over Gaza until Hamas gave up its weapons.

The source added that security officials from Ramallah would soon hold a series of meetings in Gaza with their counterparts from Hamas to discuss means of handing over security responsibility for the blockaded coastal enclave.

Egyptian chief of intelligence, Khalid Fawzi, presided over the signing as Hamas' representative, Saleh al-Arouri, and Fatah's negotiator, Azzam al-Ahmed, signed on.

Hamas seized Gaza from Fatah in a near civil war in 2007 and the two factions have been at loggerheads ever since.

Islamist movement Hamas is blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by the United States and the European Union.

Since then, the relations between the two rival factions have been very tense and all attempts to reconcile them over the past years have failed to bring fruit.

The U.S. says it wants the Palestinian Authority to take control of Gaza again.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned Palestinians against "bogus reconciliations", and reiterated Tel Aviv's demand for the disbandment of Hamas's military arm.

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