Palestinian rivals agree to hold elections but doubts persist

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ALGIERS/GAZA, Oct 13 (Reuters) - Rival Palestinian factions signed an agreement in Algiers on Thursday aimed at resolving 15 years of discord by holding elections within a year after months of talks mediated by Algeria.

The deal aims to end a rift between President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement and the Islamist group Hamas that has split Palestinian governance in the Gaza Strip from the West Bank and hindered Palestinian ambitions of statehood.

However, there was scepticism back home that the pledge to hold presidential and legislative elections would deliver any concrete changes after previous unmet promises. The delegations did not agree to form a unity government.

The division between Palestinian factions, triggered after Hamas won a legislative election in 2006, has prevented any further elections since then.

The Islamist group, which opposes peace with Israel, seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007 while Abbas' Western-backed Palestinian Authority stayed dominant in the West Bank.

Speaking after the signing ceremony, senior Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmad vowed the agreement "will be implemented and will not remain a dead letter", describing the years of division as a "cancer."

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said the agreement marked "a happy day for the Palestinians and a day of sorrow to the (Israeli) occupation."

The deal also recognised the Palestine Liberation Organisation, of which Abbas is the head, as the sole representative of the Palestinian people, and called for elections to its national council within a year.

The leaders of 14 factions, including Fatah and Hamas, held two days of talks in the run-up to an Arab summit in Algiers next month after months of Algerian mediation.

Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune hailed the agreement as historic.

Tebboune wants to use next month's Arab League summit - the first since the COVID-19 pandemic - to cement his country's place as a regional heavyweight. It has held talks for months with Palestinian factions for a deal.

Renewed demand for Algerian oil and gas, and the end of mass street protests that rocked the country from 2019-20, have bolstered its confidence on the international stage.

However, its ongoing dispute with neighbouring Morocco, which has affected both countries' relations with major European states, has overshadowed the run-up to the summit.

Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Lamine Chikhi; Editing by Angus McDowall, Raissa Kasolowsky and Josie Kao

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Thomson Reuters

A senior correspondent with nearly 25 years’ experience covering the Palestinian-Israeli conflict including several wars and the signing of the first historic peace accord between the two sides.