The Palestinian government in the West Bank on Tuesday said it would hold local elections in October across the Palestinian territories, sparking anger from Gaza's Hamas rulers.
"The Palestinian cabinet approved during its meeting today, chaired by prime minister Salam Fayyad, conducting local elections on October 20, 2012 in all local councils in the homeland," a statement said after the meeting.
"The cabinet requested from the Central Elections Commission to begin preparations for the elections on the set date, and mandated the local governance minister to periodically update the cabinet on those elections," the statement said.
A Palestinian official earlier told AFP on condition of anonymity that local elections would be held in October. The vote will be to elect new officials at the municipal and local council level.
Tuesday's decision follows two such calls for local elections last year, with the West Bank government seeking to hold the vote first in July 2011 and then in October 2011.
It also comes against the backdrop of a stalled bid to implement a reconciliation deal between the Fatah party, which dominates the West Bank government, and the Hamas movement that rules Gaza.
That deal, signed last year, was aimed at paving the way for legislative and presidential elections by May 2011, but bickering over its implementation hampered any progress towards either elections or a new government.
Hamas responded angrily on Tuesday to the call for local elections, with spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri denouncing it as "a Palestinian Authority escalation to block the reconciliation."
"This decision, if it is official, contravenes the reconciliation deal, and deals a blow to it," he told AFP.
And Taher al-Nunu, a spokesman for the Hamas government in Gaza, warned that "the Ramallah government's announcement setting a date for local elections... is a violation of the national consensus and the reconciliation agreement."
The West Bank government last year said it would hold local elections on July 9, but after the surprise reconciliation deal between Hamas and Fatah, the vote was put back to October 22.
The accord, intended to end years of rivalry between the two sides, called for legislative and presidential elections by May 2012.
But failure to agree on the formation of an interim government of independents to steer the Palestinians towards those elections stalled its implementation.
In July 2011, the Palestinian government in the West Bank said the local elections could not be held in Gaza, accusing Hamas of hampering preparations for the vote.
But then one month later, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas issued a decree "postponing the local elections indefinitely to pave the way for internal Palestinian reconciliation."
Tuesday's decision comes shortly after Hamas announced it was "temporarily suspending" the work of the Central Election Commission in Gaza, just before it began work on registering new voters in the Palestinian territory.
The movement gave the commission permission to work in Gaza in May, after months of negotiations, in what was seen as a key move in the preparations for the eventual staging of the legislative and presidential votes under the reconciliation deal.
But just as the commission was to begin registering voters, Hamas announced the suspension, accusing the West Bank government of arresting Hamas members and citing various technical "obstacles."
The last time the Palestinians went to the polls was for parliamentary elections in 2006, which Hamas won by a landslide.
New parliamentary and presidential elections had been due to be held in January 2010 but the Palestinian Authority abandoned efforts to hold a vote after Hamas refused to organise one in Gaza.