The politically divided Palestinian territories took a major step toward reconciliation Wednesday when the rival movements of Hamas and Fatah announced a deal to form a unity government, officials from both groups said.
The move comes amid international efforts for statehood advanced by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah. It could portend unity in the fractious Palestinian territories.
The two political factions have been close to civil war, culminating in 2007 when Hamas took control of Gaza after deadly fighting with Fatah partisans. Fatah retained control of the other Palestinian territory, the West Bank.
On Wednesday, U.S. officials continued to express concerns about Hamas.
"We have seen the press reports and are seeking more information," said Tommy Vietor, National Security Council spokesman.
"As we have said before, the United States supports Palestinian reconciliation on terms which promote the cause of peace," Vietor said. "Hamas, however, is a terrorist organization which targets civilians. To play a constructive role in achieving peace, any Palestinian government must accept the quartet principles and renounce violence, abide by past agreements and recognize Israel's right to exist."
The Mideast Quartet -- the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations -- has called on the new government to renounce terror and recognize Israel.
The deal would establish a new parliament and a date for general elections, Hamas officials said Wednesday.
They've also reached an agreement over security issues that have kept the two sides apart, the Hamas officials said.
Fatah officials said Hamas' reservations have been discussed and resolved and also confirmed that the two parties have agreed to hold parliamentary and presidential elections in a year's time.
Fatah leader Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal are going to meet soon in Egypt, a Hamas official said.
For years, there has been a big divide between the hard-line and anti-Israel Hamas and Fatah, which has engaged in peace negotiations with Israel.
In the recent past, both sides sought reconciliation, but those efforts failed.
Israel and militants in Gaza have fought continually for years. Israel has retaliated against Gaza militants who have fired missiles into southern Israeli towns.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the authority must decide whether it wants "peace with Israel or peace with Hamas."
"It is impossible to have peace with both since Hamas is looking to destroy the state of Israel and says it openly," he said, emphasizing that projectiles have been fired on cities and children.
"I think that the mere idea of reconciliation shows the weakness of the Palestinian Authority and raises wonders whether Hamas will take over Judea and Samaria as it took over the Gaza Strip. I hope that the Palestinian Authority chooses right -- that it chooses peace with Israel; the choice is theirs," Netanyahu said.
Many Israelis refer to the West Bank as Judea and Samaria.