DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal held a rare meeting Monday in the Gulf nation of Qatar and agreed to move forward with a reconciliation deal between their rival political movements.
The Palestinian split goes back to 2007 when the Islamic militant group Hamas seized Gaza from the Western-backed Abbas, leaving him with only parts of the West Bank. The split weakened Abbas' position in peace talks with Israel.
Just before the latest round of those negotiations formally ended last month, Hamas and Abbas made a new attempt to reconcile. On April 23, they reached an agreement to form a unity government and hold new elections in what could mark a historic step toward mending the rift that has split the Palestinians between two sets of rulers.
Hamas spokesman Hussam Bardan said that Abbas and Mashaal met in the Qatari capital, Doha, and "agreed to go ahead with implementing the recent agreement."
It was their first face-to-face meeting in more than a year.
Mashaal has been based in Doha since 2012, having left his former base of Syria to avoid siding publicly with Syria's embattled president, Bashar Assad.
The Palestinian ambassador to Qatar, Munir Ghanem, told reporters that the meeting at Doha's waterfront Ritz-Carlton hotel was an opportunity to discuss procedural matters related to the caretaker government.
He described the talks as positive and a step in the right direction toward the implementation of the April agreement.
Mashaal's office was also upbeat, saying in a statement that the two men "expressed their real willingness to open a new page, based on national partnership."
The April agreement calls for the two sides to form an interim government within five weeks, with presidential and parliamentary elections held at least six months after the government is formed.
Similar agreements have been reached in principle in the past, only to break down over deep differences and an unwillingness to cede power.
Associated Press writer Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank contributed reporting.