Rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah have signed a reconciliation deal after Hamas agreed to hand over administrative control of Gaza, a decade after seizing the enclave in a civil war.
- New unity could lend to talks on a Palestinian state in Israel-occupied territory
- Israel says the deal must abide by previous international agreements for them to accept it
- Deeper Egyptian involvement is believed to have helped cement the deal
The deal — brokered by Egypt — bridges a bitter gulf between the Western-backed Fatah party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank and Hamas, an Islamist movement designated as a terrorist group that has controlled Gaza since 2007.
Tensions between the two strikingly different governments have been a major obstacle to achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace in recent years, as Hamas fought three wars with Israel since 2008 and, until recently, continued to call for its destruction.
Observers hope that unity between the two factions will bolster Mr Abbas's Fatah-led Palestinian government to revive peace talks and return to the path of a Western-backed two-state solution.
Hamas's agreement to transfer administrative powers in Gaza to a Fatah-backed government marked a major reversal in its long-held hard-line stance, prompted partly by its fears of financial and political isolation after its main patron, Qatar, plunged in June into a major diplomatic dispute with key allies like Saudi Arabia.
But despite the reconciliation, the accord was met with negativity in Israel which said — without elaborating — that it would make peace "harder".
"There is nothing we want more than peace with all our neighbours," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Twitter.
"Reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas makes peace much harder to achieve."
Meanwhile, another Israeli government official said the deal must abide by previous international agreements and terms set out by Middle East peace mediators, which including recognising Israel and Hamas handing over its weapons.
"Israel will examine developments in the field and act accordingly," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Thousands of Palestinians took to the streets across Gaza in celebration of the unity pact, with loudspeakers on open cars blasting national songs, youths dancing and hugging and many waving Palestine and Egyptian flags.
Egypt helped mediate several previous attempts to reconcile the two movements and form a power-sharing unity government in Gaza and the West Bank, but attempts often fell apart.
Delegations from the two rivals had been in talks in Cairo this week to work out the details of the administrative handover, including security in Gaza and at border crossings.
The agreement calls for Mr Abbas's presidential guard to assume responsibility of the Rafah crossing on November 1, and for the full handover of administrative control of Gaza to the unity government to be completed by December 1.
Analysts believe the deal is more likely to stick than earlier ones, given Hamas's growing isolation and its realisation of how hard Gaza, with its economy hobbled by border blockades and its infrastructure shattered by wars with Israel, is to govern and rebuild.