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Apr 23, 10:12 AM EDT

Abbas, rival Hamas give reconciliation another try


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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) -- Rivals Hamas and Fatah made a new attempt Wednesday to overcome the Palestinians' political split, saying they would seek to form an interim unity government within five weeks, followed by general elections by December at the earliest.

The announcement was made by Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, the head of the Hamas government in Gaza, and Azzam al-Ahmed of Fatah, an envoy of internationally backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Similar agreements were reached in principle in the past but never implemented. It was not clear how the new attempt announced Wednesday would succeed where previous ones failed, since the fundamental difficulties remain in place.

However, any agreement between Abbas and the Islamic militant Hamas was bound to add further complications to U.S. mediation efforts between Israel and the Palestinians.

Israel and the West consider Hamas a terror organization, in part because the group carried out scores of bombings and shootings that killed hundreds of Israelis over the past two decades. The group is sworn to Israel's destruction.

Earlier Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Abbas of sabotaging peace efforts by seeking rapprochement with Hamas.

"So instead of moving into peace with Israel, he's moving into peace with Hamas," Netanyahu said. "He has to choose. Does he want peace with Hamas or peace with Israel? You can have one but not the other. I hope he chooses peace, so far he hasn't done so."

Netanyahu and Abbas face a U.S.-set target date Tuesday for either reaching the outlines of a peace deal or an agreement to extend their talks. An outline is out of reach at this stage, and the two sides remain far apart on the terms of a possible extension.

Hamas seized Gaza from Abbas in 2007, leaving him with only parts of the West Bank. Both sides have become entrenched in their territories, setting up respective governments and their own security forces.

Abbas sent a delegation to Gaza this week for reconciliation talks with Hamas.

Haniyeh said during a news conference with al-Ahmed that "we agreed on a timetable to end the split."

He said Abbas would now begin consultations on forming an interim government within five weeks. Presidential and parliamentary elections should be held on the same date, "at the earliest six months after forming the government."

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