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Palestinians Agree on Unity Government as Israel Protests

April 23 (Bloomberg) -- Rival Palestinian factions agreed to form a unity government and hold new general elections, developments that if carried through will complicate efforts to revive U.S.-mediated peace talks with Israel.

Fatah, headed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and based in the West Bank, and Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, will form a joint government within five weeks and hold elections within six months, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said today in the Gaza Strip, where reconciliation talks were held.

A Fatah-Hamas unity administration formed in 2006 collapsed a year later after a violent clash between their forces in Gaza. Several other reunification pacts since have failed because of disputes over the details and implementation.

“Today’s agreement includes a full commitment from the parties to everything that was agreed upon in the two previous reconciliation agreements that were reached in Cairo and Doha,” Haniyeh said at a press briefing. Under the 2012 Doha agreement, Abbas would continue to head a provisional government until elections were held.

As the agreement was announced, an Israeli air strike wounded at least two Palestinians in Gaza, according to emergency medical services spokesman Ashraf al-Qedra. The Israeli army said it carried out “a counter-terrorism operation in the northern Gaza Strip,” without giving more details.

Later, Palestinians fired at least three rockets into Israel from Gaza without causing injuries, the army said.

Terrorist Label

A new Palestinian government that includes Hamas may complicate U.S. efforts to resurrect stalled peace talks because the group is classified as a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and European Union.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement after the agreement was announced, saying Abbas “chose Hamas” and “whoever chooses Hamas doesn’t want peace.” He canceled a meeting scheduled between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, according to a separate e-mail.

Abbas said the agreement with Hamas “will enhance the ability of Palestinian negotiators to achieve the two-state solution,” according to a statement posted on the official Palestinian news agency, Wafa.

If Hamas does join a Palestinian unity government, “they would probably allow Abbas to continue talking to Israel while insisting as they have in the past that any agreements require approval from the Palestinian public in a referendum,” said Mark Heller, research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.

“In any case, there are no signs we’re close to a peace agreement, and adding Hamas to the mix just puts it a few more steps away,” Heller said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Calev Ben-David in Jerusalem at cbendavid@bloomberg.net; Saud Abu Ramadan in Jerusalem at sramadan@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net Mark Williams, Caroline Alexander

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