GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories: Gaza's Hamas rulers on Wednesday authorised the Palestinian elections commission to begin voter registration as part of efforts to restart reconciliation, an official said.
"We have agreed to start operations in the Gaza Strip and we will begin in Gaza and the West Bank," Central Elections Commission chief Hanna Nasser said after meeting Gaza's Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya.
Last May, Hamas gave the commission permission to start updating voter rolls but then "temporarily" halted the work as reconciliation efforts with the Fatah movement stagnated.
But in recent months, the two factions have been taking tentative steps towards implementing a reconciliation deal that calls for the creation of an interim government of independents to pave the way for new elections.
Voter registration in Gaza, where rolls have not been updated since the last elections in 2006, is a key part of implementation of the reconciliation deal.
"We will meet with Hamas, Fatah and other movements to discuss the arrangements for registering voters and we hope to register them within a week to 10 days," Nasser said, estimating the number of new voters in the West Bank and Gaza at around 650,000.
In a statement published on its website, the elections commission announced that it hoped to complete registration by February 16.
Haniya spokesman Taher al-Nunu, speaking with Nasser after the meeting, confirmed the deal and said the Hamas government "would furnish all the facilities needed for the success of the commission's work."
President Mahmud Abbas, whose Fatah faction rules the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, said that "when the Elections Commission starts its work, so will the consultations on national consensus government begin."
"When the Commission announces it is ready to hold elections, we will issue a decree on the formation of the government and a decree on elections," he said at a meeting at the headquarters of the Palestinian presidency in Ramallah.
Hamas and Fatah, long-time rivals which govern Gaza and the West Bank respectively, signed a reconciliation deal in Cairo in 2011, but its implementation has stalled multiple times.
Earlier this month, Fatah's chief envoy on the reconciliation process, Azzam al-Ahmed, said a key to implementing the agreement would be the restart of the CEC's work by January 30.