RAMALLAH, West Bank, Feb 6 (Ali Sawafta/Reuters & JMCC) - Rival Palestinian factions Fateh and Hamas signed a deal in Qatar on Monday to form a unity government of independent technocrats for the West Bank and Gaza, headed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
The move, following the failure of exploratory Israeli-Palestinian talks aimed at reviving stalled peace negotiations, was likely to be condemned by Israel and the United States, who say the Islamist Hamas cannot be part of any peace efforts.
The accord aims to pave the way for Palestinian presidential and parliamentary election possibly later this year and to rebuild the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip following the 2008-2009 Israeli offensive against Hamas.
It was not known whether the deal would be implemented. No timetable was set. A reconciliation pact Fateh and Hamas struck in May 2011 has had little substantive result but both sides said they were serious about carrying out the new accord.
Fateh and Hamas have been bitter rivals since the Islamist movement seized control of Gaza in a brief war in 2007 and expelled Abbas' Fateh-led Palestinian Authority.
Monday's deal provides for a government of independent technocrats to oversee preparations for elections later this year. A vote had been mooted in May but the Palestinian election commission says more time will be needed.
Abbas and Hamas head Khaled Meshaal, who signed Monday's deal in the presence of Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, pledged to ensure quick implementation of the new deal, billed as the Doha Declaration.
We are serious, both Fateh and Hamas, in healing the wounds and ending the chapter of division and reinforcing and accomplishing reconciliation, Meshaal said in comments televised live by Al Jazeera from Qatar.
He said Palestinians wanted to accomplish unity and move forward to resist the enemy (Israel) and achieve our national goals. Abbas, head of the secular Fateh movement, promised that this effort will be implemented in the shortest time possible.
FAYYAD WELCOMES DEAL
There was no immediate comment from Israel, which has warned Abbas that turning to Hamas amounts to turning away from peace.
A senior Palestinian official said that under Monday's agreement, Abbas would assume the role of prime minister, replacing Western-backed economist Salam Fayyad.
It was not immediately clear if Fayyad -- whose dismissal was one of the main Hamas demands -- would be a member of the new government or when the cabinet would be formed.
Fayyad welcomed the accord, and was expected to remain in his post until the new government takes over.
The prime minister saw this as a response to the aspirations of our people to restore unity to the homeland and its institutions, said a statement issued by his office.
Ismail Haniyeh, who heads the Hamas government in Gaza, also welcomed the deal and said he was ready to help implement it.
The last presidential and parliamentary elections were held in 2006. Hamas won the parliamentary vote and briefly formed a government but it was shunned internationally and later dissolved by Abbas.
The Palestinian Authority supports a negotiated peace with Israel that would give Palestinians an independent state in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and in Gaza, co-existing alongside the Jewish state. Hamas is officially sworn to the destruction of Israel but is open to an indefinite ceasefire.
Palestinians in Gaza welcomed the new accord.
It is a historic agreement for all the Palestinian people and we hope it will be implemented on the ground as it was signed on television, said Gaza merchant Ahmed Abu Imtir.
(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Douglas Hamilton and Mark Heinrich)