The leaders of the rival Palestinian movements Fatah and Hamas announced they have agreed to form an interim unity government led by Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority.
Abbas and Khaled Meshaal, head of the militant Islamist Hamas, said Monday the two groups would move forward without delay to form a government of independent technocrats, paving the way for presidential and parliamentary elections possibly later this year. No specific timetable was set.
The emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, who sponsored the talks, sat between the rival Palestinian leaders as they announced the deal in Doha.
Fatah and Hamas had reached a reconciliation accord last year but were unable to agree on a candidate for prime minister. The current Palestinian premier, the Western-backed Salam Fayyad, would have to step down if a transitional government is formed. Fayyad said he welcomed the pact and is ready to implement it, as did Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas' prime minister in Gaza.
Both sides said they are serious about carrying out the new agreement. Meshaal said it creates greater unity "in order to be free for facing the enemy," referring to Israel. Hamas is officially sworn to Israel's destruction, but says it is open to an indefinite cease-fire.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday it would be impossible to hold peace talks if the Palestinians go through with the pact. He said if Abbas implements the power-sharing deal, he has chosen to "abandon the way of peace and to choose Hamas," adding, "you cannot have it both ways."
The United States, Europe and Israel all consider Hamas a terrorist organization. The West and Israel say they will not deal with a Palestinian entity that includes the Islamist group unless it recognizes Israel, renounces violence and accepts all previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.
The more moderate, Abbas-led 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.
The deal, known as the "Doha Declaration," also calls for rebuilding Gaza, which has been largely cut off from the world as part of an Israeli-Egyptian border blockade, imposed after Hamas took over the Palestinian territory in 2007. The blockade was eased in the past year, but not enough to revive Gaza's economy.
Hamas won a landslide victory in Palestinian elections in 2006. It wrested control of Gaza from forces loyal to Abbas's Fatah movement after months of factional unrest, splitting the Palestinian territories into rival camps.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.