Fatah, the Palestinian political organisation, has reached an agreement with its rival Hamas on forming an interim government and fixing a date for a general election, Egyptian intelligence has said.
In February, Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority and a member of Fatah, called for presidential and legislative elections before September, in a move which was rejected by Hamas at the time.
"The consultations resulted in full understandings over all points of discussions, including setting up an interim agreement with specific tasks and to set a date for election," Egyptian intelligence said in a statement on Wednesday.
The deal, which took many officials by surprise, was thrashed out in Egypt and followed a series of secret meetings.
"The two sides signed initial letters on an agreement. All points of differences have been overcome," Taher Al-Nono, a Hamas government spokesman in Gaza, told the Reuters news agency.
He said that Cairo would shortly invite both sides to a signing ceremony.
Speaking to Al Jazeera from Gaza, Ghazi Hamad, a senior Hamas official, said: I think we are optimistic because … there is [an] official agreement between Hamas and Fatah, and I think we now have [an] impressive jump to the Palestinian unity.
"Maybe it does not come as one shock because I think it came as a fruit for long talks and discussion.
"I think that today we became very close to this agreement, we have finished some points. It is like [an] outline draft and I think it will be a good beginning.
"Maybe after that we will start how we can implement this agreement to be translated and practised on the ground."
Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst, said: "It is important news … the geopolitical situation wasn’t exactly helpful [to reconciliation] and then we went through six months of upheavals, certainly sweeping through Egypt.
"At the end, you could say that President Abbas has lost his patron in Egypt, which is President Mubarak, and Hamas is more on less facing almost similar trouble now, with Bashar Al-Assad [Syria’s president] facing his own trouble in Damascus.
"So with the US keeping a distance, Israel not delivering the goods on the peace process and the settlements, it was time for Palestinians to come together and agree on what they basically agreed on almost a year and a half ago."
Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, said on Wednesday that Abbas could not hope to forge a peace deal with Israel if he pursued a reconciliation accord with Hamas.
"The Palestinian Authority must choose either peace with Israel or peace with Hamas. There is no possibility for peace with both," he said.
Hamas does not recognise Israel as a state.
Fatah holds power in the occupied West Bank while Hamas, which won the last parliamentary election in 2006, routed Abbas’ forces in 2007 to seize control of the Gaza Strip.
Rawya Rageh, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Cairo, said: "This effectively will be ending a bitter split that Palestinians have been witnessing since 2007.
"There is an announcement expected in the next few hours to reveal the details of the agreement."
Rageh said the deal was expected to be signed next week and would be attended by Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, who is based in Damascus.
Nicole Johnston, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Gaza, said: "One of the main civil society groups here is calling on all Palestinian factions to head down to the main square in Gaza City, that’s the square of the unknown soldier, to begin the celebrations.
"It seems certainly in Gaza that there’s a need for some good news. It’s been a pretty rough month here in a lot of respects, an escalation of violence with Israel, the kidnapping and murder of a foreigner.
"So really, this kind of news … is call for celebration."
Wednesday’s accord was first reported by Egypt’s intelligence service, which brokered the talks.
In a statement carried by the Egyptian state news agency MENA, the intelligence service said the deal was agreed by a Hamas delegation led by Moussa Abu Marzouk, deputy head of the group’s politburo, and Fatah central committee member Azzam al-Ahmad.
Al-Ahmad and Abu Marzouk said the agreement covered all points of contention, including forming a transitional government, security arrangements and the restructuring of the Palestine Liberation Organisation to allow Hamas to join it.
Speaking on Egyptian state television, al-Ahmad said a general election would take place within a year.
Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior member of Hamas, said all prisoners with a non-criminal background would be released.
(Al Jazeera and Agencies)