Palestinian rivals set timetable for unity deal

Palestinian rivals Hamas and Fatah agreed on Sunday on a new timetable for a power-sharing deal that envisions elections in about six months, officials from both sides said.

Reconciliation efforts have stalled repeatedly, and it is unclear if the latest agreement, brokered by Egypt and signed in Cairo, would end the impasse.

The Islamic militant Hamas seized Gaza from Fatah's leader, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in 2007, leaving him with only the West Bank.

Earlier this year, Abbas and Hamas' supreme leader, Khaled Mashaal, agreed that the Palestinian president should head an interim government that prepares for elections. However, the agreement never got off the ground because of disagreements over implementation, as well as opposition from Hamas leaders in Gaza who balked at giving up some of their powers to Abbas.

Under the timetable agreed on Sunday, the Palestinian election commission would begin updating voter records in Gaza on May 27. Within 10 days, Abbas and Mashaal would form the interim government, which would be in office for no more than six months, Azzam al-Ahmed of Fatah and Fawzi Barhoum of Hamas said.

The interim government would prepare for presidential and parliamentary elections, the officials said.

It was not immediately clear what led to Sunday's somewhat unexpected agreement.

Hamas is in the midst of secret leadership elections, and no progress on reconciliation was expected until the vote, already under way for several weeks, is completed.

Abbas, in turn, appeared to be stalling on reconciliation, possibly because an alliance with Hamas could cost him international support.