Palestinian factions agree to hold elections on May 22

CAIRO: Leaders of rival Palestinian factions have agreed to press ahead with elections this year after two days of Egyptian-brokered talks in Cairo.
President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party and Hamas agreed that only Palestinian police would secure the elections headquarters in the West Bank and Gaza during the poll.
They said they had agreed a timeline for the polls and “committed to respecting and accepting their results.”
The deal provides for an “electoral court” with exclusive jurisdiction over the electoral process and any cases arising from the polls, the first in 15 years.
The parliamentary and presidential polls are set for May 22 and July 31, respectively.
The also agreed to ensure that security services in the West Bank — under the control of the Palestinian Authority — and the Hamas-ruled Gaza strip remained neutral during the vote.
In a joint statement both factions committed to addressing the effects of political division and agreed to release all political prisoners.
Both sides also said they would ensure freedom of expression during the campaign.
The Palestinians have been bitterly divided since 2007, when Hamas violently seized control of the Gaza Strip from Abbas’ forces a year after the militant group won a landslide victory in parliamentary elections.
Several attempts at reconciliation over the years have collapsed amid mutual recriminations.
One obstacle that remains is whether Israel will allow Palestinian voting in east Jerusalem, a territory the Jewish state seized in 1967 along with the West bank and Gaza. Palestinians want to have east Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state, but Israel bars the Palestinian Authority from operating in the city.
The elections pose risks for both factions. Hamas may have to answer for the severe deterioration of living conditions in Gaza since it seized power. Israel and Egypt have imposed a crippling blockade on Gaza since 2007, which Israel says is needed to keep Hamas from importing arms.
For Abbas, reconciliation with Hamas could undermine relations with Western countries, including the United States, where President Joe Biden has vowed to restore aid to the Palestinians and try to revive peace talks with Israel.
(With AP and AFP)

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