GAZA (Reuters) - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah movement and its bitter rival, the Islamist Hamas, struck a deal on Wednesday to form an interim unity government and fix a date for general election, both sides said.
The deal, which took many officials by surprise because of profound Fatah-Hamas divisions over how to resolve generations of conflict with Israel, was thrashed out in Egypt and followed a series of secret meetings.
"The two sides signed initial letters on an agreement. All points of differences have been overcome," Taher Al-Nono, the Hamas government spokesman in Gaza, told Reuters. He added that Cairo would shortly invite both sides to a signing ceremony.
The accord was first reported by Egypt's intelligence service, which brokered the talks.
In a statement carried by the Egyptian state news agency MENA, the intelligence service said the deal was hatched by a Hamas delegation led by Moussa Abu Marzouk, deputy head of the group's politburo, and Fatah Central Committee member Azzam al-Ahmad.
"The consultations resulted in full understandings on all points of discussions, including setting up an interim agreement with specific tasks and to set a date for election," the statement said.
It said the agreement would allow Egypt to invite all Palestinian factions to sign a national reconciliation agreement in Cairo in the next few days.
Restoring Palestinian unity is seen as crucial to reviving any prospect for a Palestinian state based on peaceful co-existence alongside Israel. Fatah, the mainstream Palestinian movement until a 2006 election victory by Hamas, backs negotiated peace but the Islamists reject it.
Al-Ahmad and Abu Marzouk said the agreement covered all points of contention, including forming a transitional government, security arrangements and the restructuring of the Palestine Liberation Organization to allow Hamas to join it.
A senior Egyptian intelligence official told Reuters that he expected Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, who is based in Damascus, to attend the signing of the agreement in Cairo.
(Reporting by Marwa Awad and Ayman Samir; Writing by Sami Aboudi and Crispian Balmer; editing by Mark Heinrich)