Hamas agrees to steps toward Palestinian unity


The former chief in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, was elected overall head of the Palestinian Islamist group.

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories - Hamas said on Sunday it would do away with a body seen as an alternative government in the Gaza Strip in a step towards reconciliation with rival Fatah following discussions with Egypt.

Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement that runs the Gaza Strip, also said it was ready for talks with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's Fatah on forming a unity government and holding elections.

The announcement comes after talks in Cairo last week with Egyptian officials in which Hamas chief Ismail Haniya agreed to take such steps, a Hamas official has told AFP.

It was unclear however whether the steps would result in further concrete action toward ending the deep division with Fatah, based in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

In Sunday's statement, Hamas spoke of the "dissolution" of what is known as the administrative committee, which was seen as a rival government to Abbas's administration.

Hamas formed the committee in March, and since then Abbas has sought to put further pressure on the Islamist movement, reducing electricity payments for the Gaza Strip among other measures.

Hamas has run Gaza since 2007, having seized it in a near civil war from Fatah following a dispute over parliamentary elections won by the Islamist movement.

The Gaza Strip has faced deteriorating humanitarian conditions, with a severe electricity crisis and a lack of clean water, among other issues.

It has been under an Israeli blockade for around a decade, while its border with Egypt has also remained largely closed in recent years.

The coastal enclave of some two million people also has one of the world's highest unemployment rates.

Facing those conditions, Hamas has turned to Egypt for assistance, particularly involving fuel to produce power.

Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, including Hamas, have fought three wars since 2008.

READ: EU court upholds Hamas terror listing

UN officials have called for the blockade to be lifted, but Israel says it is necessary to stop Hamas from obtaining weapons or materials that could be used to make them.

Last month, the Gaza head of Hamas, Yahya al-Sinwar, said the movement had increased its military capabilities thanks to newly improved relations with Iran, Israel's arch-enemy.