The militant Palestinian Islamic group Hamas says it will end a long-standing boycott and participate in Palestinian parliamentary elections in July.

Hamas leaders announced the decision Saturday, at a news conference in the northern West Bank town of Nablus.

Political observers say the decision to take part in the parliamentary poll was largely expected. Hamas' overwhelming victory in January municipal elections were seen as a major setback for the Fatah Party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Mr. Abbas has said Hamas should be in the Palestinian parliament as a political party because it will then share responsibility for Palestinian political affairs.

Hamas boycotted the first legislative elections in the Palestinian territories in 1996 and refused to put forward a candidate for the presidential poll in January to find a successor to the late Yasser Arafat.