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Thousands of Palestinians Rally for Political Unity

Palestinians wave flags and chant slogans during a rally calling for a reconciliation between the rival Palestinian leading factions Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, March 15, 2011

Thousands of Palestinians have rallied in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to call for reconciliation between rival Palestinian governments based in the two territories.

Tuesday's rallies in Gaza City and Ramallah were organized through Facebook by Internet activists calling themselves the "March 15 Youth."

Demonstrators in both cities carried banners urging Hamas militants who rule Gaza and the Fatah-led government in the West Bank to end the split that has existed since 2007, when Hamas drove Fatah forces out of Gaza.

Organizers described themselves as non-partisan. Their movement for Palestinian reconciliation is the latest to be inspired by popular uprisings against authoritarian rulers in several Arab nations. Hamas and Fatah authorities approved Tuesday's demonstrations.

Efforts by Arab mediators to reconcile Hamas and Fatah have failed repeatedly in recent years, with both sides accusing each other of being illegitimate rulers.

Fatah leader and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is calling for presidential and parliamentary elections to be held by September in the West Bank and Gaza to allow the Palestinian electorate to decide who should be in charge. Hamas has said it will not permit Fatah to hold any elections in Gaza.

The two movements also have sharp divisions over how to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Abbas favors a peace settlement with Israel, but walked out of negotiations last year to protest Israeli settlement construction on occupied land the Palestinians want for a state. Hamas opposes peace talks and has called for Israel's destruction.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.

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