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Fatah, Hamas Reach Agreement On Interim Government

Officials say the rival Fatah and Hamas movements have reached an initial agreement on ending a four-year rift that has left the Palestinians divided in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Egypt's MENA news agency reported that officials from both sides had agreed on a plan that calls for the formation of a single caretaker government, and make preparations to hold presidential and legislative elections.

Reuters quoted Azzam al-Ahmad, the head of Fatah's negotiating team in Cairo, as saying, "We have agreed to form a government composed of independent figures that would start preparing for presidential and parliamentary elections."

Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior Hamas official, was quoted as saying the deal covered five points, including elections, forming an interim unity government, and combining security forces.

He also said Hamas and Fatah agreed to free prisoners held by each side.

Palestinian officials said that the deal was reached through Egyptian mediation.

Responding to the deal, the United States said that any Palestinian unity government must renounce violence and recognize Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said he hoped "the Palestinian Authority will make the right choice -- peace with Israel."

compiled from agency reports