Rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas have sealed a landmark pact aimed at ending their bitter four-year rift.
The declaration was made at a ceremony at the Egyptian intelligence headquarters in Cairo.
Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the accord ended “four black years” that hurt national Palestinian interests. He also said he would “soon” visit Hamas-held Gaza Strip.
The pact provides for the creation of a joint caretaker Palestinian government ahead of national elections next year, but leaves key issues unresolved and makes no mention of peace talks with Israel.
Israel has denounced the pact in advance of the Cairo ceremony, because of the militant Hamas’ long history of deadly attacks against Israeli targets. It has equated the deal with a renunciation of peacemaking.
Like the US and the European Union, Israel considers Hamas a terrorist organisation and says it will not negotiate with a future Palestinian government that includes the Iranian- and Syrian-backed group.
Mr Abbas rejected Israel’s opposition to the pact, saying the reconciliation with the militant Islamic group was an internal Palestinian affair.
“They are our brothers and family. We may differ, and we often do, but we still arrive at a minimum level of understanding,” he said.
And in a message to Israel he added: “We reject blackmail and it is no longer possible for us to accept the occupation of Palestinian land.”
Hamas leader Kahled Mashaal also addressed the ceremony, saying his group was prepared to do anything to “translate the text of the pact to facts on the ground. Our battle is with the Israeli enemy and not with Palestinian factions.”
It’s not clear whether Western powers would deal with the new government that is to emerge from the unity deal. So far, they have said they are waiting to see its composition.
The Quartet of Mideast mediators – the US, the EU, the United Nations and Russia – has long demanded Hamas renounce violence and recognise the principle of Israel’s right to exist.
Hamas and other Palestinian militant factions in Gaza have agreed to abide by an unofficial truce with Israel, largely in place since Israel’s January 2009 war in the territory. But it is unclear how long that truce will last, and Hamas has consistently rejected negotiations with Israel.
The reconciliation deal is designed to unify the duelling Palestinian governments that emerged after Hamas violently wrested control of Gaza from security forces loyal to Abbas in June 2007 and left his Fatah controlling only the West Bank.
For the first time, Hamas permitted Gaza residents to wave yellow Fatah banners along with the green Hamas flags. Fatah displays had been banned by Hamas police in the past.