Gaza's Hamas rulers on Monday gave the green light to the Palestinian Central Election Commission to begin updating voter lists throughout the coastal strip, a top CEC official said.
"Hamas has agreed to let the CEC start working throughout Gaza," said CEC president Hanna Nasser at a news conference in Gaza City, in a key step to paving the way for elections.
"The commission has started its operations now with five offices in the five governorates," he said after meeting Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya to discuss starting work to update Gaza's electoral register for the first time since 2006.
"We hope to begin working immediately to prepare for the process of updating voter lists," Nasser said, thanking Haniya for allowing the CEC to start its long-overdue work.
"We hope that within six weeks, the voter lists will be complete in Gaza as they are in Ramallah."
At a meeting in Cairo on May 20, senior Fatah and Hamas officials agreed that the CEC would start work in Gaza by the end of the month, and that both factions would at the same time begin consultations on forming an interim "government of independents."
Holding elections and putting together a caretaker cabinet are two of the main issues which have been holding up implementation of a reconciliation deal between the rival Hamas and Fatah factions which was inked on April 27, 2011.
Signup to our newsletter and follow us on Facebook and Twitter!
Speaking at the same news conference, Haniya's deputy Mohammed Awad said he hoped the commission's work would prove to the people that the stalled unity deal was really starting to be implemented.
"I hope that this will be the foundation for ending the Palestinian division, and that Palestinian citizens will really feel that the reconciliation has begun in light of (plans to form) the new government and the resolution of all outstanding issues," he said.
He also expressed hope that the CEC's work "would take place everywhere, including in Jerusalem," referring to the annexed eastern sector of the city where Palestinians hope to one day have the capital of their future state.
The CEC reopened its Gaza offices in January but could not begin working on updating the voter lists without Hamas's permission.
Discussions over the interim government were also to start on Monday at an evening meeting between the two factions in Cairo, a Hamas spokesman told AFP on Sunday.
Under the terms of the long-stalled unity deal, the two factions were to put together a caretaker cabinet of independent technocrats tasked with preparing for presidential and legislative elections by May 2012.
The new agreement reached between the two sides on May 20 envisaged a temporary government which would be headed by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas which would have a six-month mandate to prepare for elections.
In the event that elections were not held within that period, the two factions would put together a new administration which would be headed by an independent technocrat.