Hamas, Fatah Unity Government 'On Again'

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- The on-again, off-again Fatah, Hamas unity government is on again, at least for now.

According to the Palestinian Authority's official Ma'an News Agency, the two factions signed a power-sharing agreement in Cairo Sunday to restart negotiations, form a new cabinet with ministers from both parties and plan elections.

The agreement, signed by Azzam al-Ahmad for Fatah and Moussa Abu Marzouk for Hamas, calls for the interim government to rule until legislative and presidential elections take place in approximately six months.

Marzouk reiterated that his faction would not recognize Israel's right to exist, a position written into the group's charter.

"We will not recognize Israel as a state," he said, noting it would consider any agreement reached with Israel a "hudna," a term that traditionally refers to a temporary truce.

Marzouk said a national referendum would be required to ratify any peace deal reached with Israel as well as for a decision on the "right of return" for Palestinian "refugees" and their descendants living in neighboring Arab countries, estimated at nearly five million.

Hamas was deeply troubled last week when the P.A. installed a new cabinet with Salam Fayyad as prime minister. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the move deepened the rift between the two factions, which have been trying to reconcile for nearly five years.

In June 2007, Abbas dissolved a three-month old unity coalition formed after the Saudi-sponsored Mecca Accords. At the time, Abbas appointed Gaza-based Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh prime minister.

But when Hamas wrested control of the Gaza Strip in a bloody military coup, Abbas dissolved the coalition, formed an emergency government and appointed Fayyad to replace Haniyeh. Hamas, which still refers to Haniyeh as prime minister, objects to Fayyad, who is well liked abroad.

With Hamas on the U.S. and U.K.'s list of terror organizations, there has been some concern that Western aid could be affected by a unity coalition.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said it could not negotiate with Hamas because it will not recognize the Jewish state's right to exist and openly calls for its destruction.

The unity announcement comes a week after Netanyahu sent a letter to Abbas calling for the resumption of peace talks without preconditions.

Over the past five years, Hamas has ruled Gaza and Abbas' Fatah party those areas under P.A. control in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank).

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