The leaders of the main Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, have agreed to hold elections in May 2012 after holding talks in Cairo over a power-sharing arrangement.
Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, and Khaled Meshaal, the Hamas leader, hailed a new "partnership" after Thursday’s talks in the Egyptian capital, their first working meeting since Hamas seized the Gaza Strip in 2007.
The two have agreed on releasing Hamas and Fatah members held by the other side, on the election preparations and on the reinforcement of "the popular confrontations against the Israeli occupation", Azzam el-Ahmad, a senior Fatah leader attending the talks, said.
Abbas, who heads Fatah, said: "There are no more differences between us now. We have agreed to work as partners with joint responsibility."
For his part, Meshaal said: "We want to assure our people and the Arab and Islamic world that we have turned a major new and real page in partnership on everything do to with the Palestinian nation."
Stalled over Post
Last May, the two reached an agreement in principle that called for setting up an interim unity government, holding parliamentary and presidential elections within a year and merging rival security forces.
However, talks on carrying out the agreement quickly stalled over who should serve as interim prime minister, with Hamas rejecting Abbas’s candidate, Salam Fayyad, the West Bank-based prime minister .
Al Jazeera’s Nicole Johnston, reporting from Gaza, said the question of how this unity government would be formed "remains the sticking point".
"[The leaders] said they will have a meeting on December 20 to discuss that," she said. "Then on December 22, all Palestinian factions will meet in Cairo to try to come up with a plan on how to reform the Palestinian Liberation Organisation.
"All these issues were on the table in May earlier this year and they are still on the table now. But it does seem that there is a renewed impetus to try to get some movement on the issue of the Palestinian elections and to try to end this very long divide between Hamas and Fatah."
Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas official, said all elements of the power-sharing agreement were on the table on Thursday.
He said that after meeting one on one for about 90 minutes, the leaders were joined by their delegations.
The deal has been criticised by Israel, with Binjamin Netanyahu, the country’s prime minister, saying on Thursday that he hoped Abbas "would stop the reconciliation process with Hamas".
The accord has also been received with caution in the US and the European Union, prompting Izzat al-Rishq, the Hamas official, to accuse both of seeking to perpetuate Palestinian political division.
Both Washington and Brussels have said they will not work with a government that includes Hamas unless it recognise Israel, renounce violence and agree to abide by previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.
"Unfortunately the Americans and Europeans have taken negative positions on the meeting between the brothers Meshaal and Abbas," al-Rishq said.
"This position is the result of their desire for the continuation of the Palestinian division so they can continue to impose their dictates on the Palestinian people."
Hamas and Fatah, which respectively control the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, have long been political rivals, but tensions spilled over into deadly violence in 2007 with Hamas forces eventually routing their Fatah rivals and taking control of the Gaza Strip.
(Al Jazeera and Agencies)