Palestinian rival factions Fatah and Hamas in a formal ceremony signed a unity agreement, repairing a four-year rift.
The ceremony Wednesday in Cairo was delayed for two hours over whether the head of the Islamist Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, should sit on stage and be allowed to speak.
The signing of the unity deal turns “the black page of division,” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Fatah party, said following the signing at the Egyptian intelligence headquarters.
“Our battle is with the Israeli enemy and not with Palestinian factions,” Mashaal said in an address following Abbas.
The reconciliation agreement will form an interim Fatah-Hamas government to run the West Bank, which is now controlled by the Palestinian Authority, and the Hamas-run Gaza Strip. Parliamentary and presidential elections will take place within a year. Abbas has said he will not be a candidate.
The document was signed in front of members of Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which has governed Egypt since President Hosni Mubarak was deposed in January. Arab members of Israel’s Knesset also attended the signing, according to reports.
In an interview with Israel Radio shortly before the signing, Nabil Shaath, a senior Abbas aide, said it was unfair for international leaders, including the Mideast Quartet, to demand that Hamas recognize Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday during a meeting with Quartet envoy Tony Blair called on Abbas to halt the agreement.
“I call on Abu Mazen to annul the agreement with Hamas immediately and choose the path of peace with Israel,” Netanyahu told Blair during their meeting Tuesday to discuss the stalled peace process and other diplomatic issues including the elimination of Osama bin Laden, according to a statement issued from the Prime Minister’s Office.
“The agreement between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas is a hard blow to the peace process,” the Israeli leader said. “How is it possible to achieve peace with a government, half of which calls for the destruction of the State of Israel and even praises the arch-murderer Osama bin Laden?”