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Palestinian factions agree to reunite

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Rival Palestinian groups said they reached an agreement yesterday on reuniting their governments in the West Bank and Gaza after years of bitter infighting that weakened them politically and caused the deaths of hundreds in violent clashes and crackdowns since.

However, unity between the rival groups Fatah and Hamas appeared unlikely to jump-start negotiations with Israel for an independent Palestinian state.

Israel swiftly rejected the prospect of a Palestinian government including Hamas, citing the militant group's stated goal of destroying the Jewish state. The United States expressed similar concerns.

The plan, brokered by Egypt, calls for a single caretaker government to rule until elections are to be held in a year's time.

"The people want to end the division . . . and we say: what you demanded has been achieved today," said Azzam al-Ahmed, the chief Fatah negotiator in Cairo.

Rivalries between the two factions began in 2006 after the militant Islamic group Hamas won elections in Gaza and the West Bank. A year later, frustrated by what it viewed as Fatah efforts to cripple its rule, Hamas seized power in Gaza.

The split left the Palestinian Authority, dominated by Fatah, in control of the West Bank.

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