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GAZA (Reuters) - Rival Palestinian factions agreed on Tuesday on steps aimed at ensuring Palestinian elections are held as planned later this year and pledged to respect their results, a joint statement said.
No Palestinian elections have been conducted in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem for 15 years amid a deep rift between President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah nationalist group and the Hamas Islamist movement.
The two dominant factions - Fatah holds sway in the West Bank, and Hamas rules Gaza - convened on Monday for talks in Cairo to prepare for parliamentary elections on May 22 and a presidential vote on July 31.
A joint statement at the end of the two-day session said both groups and 12 other Palestinian factions, including the militant Islamic Jihad movement, pledged "to abide by the timetable" for balloting and "respect and accept" the results.
Islamic Jihad later issued a statement saying it would not field candidates in the elections, citing its opposition to interim peace deals the Palestine Liberation Organization signed with Israel in the 1990s. Islamic Jihad did not take part in Palestinian balloting in 1996 and 2006.
There has been widespread scepticism that elections will even happen this year.
Many Palestinians believe they are mainly an attempt by Abbas to show his democratic credentials to new U.S. President Joe Biden, with whom he wants to reset relations after they reached a new low under Donald Trump.
At the Cairo talks, the groups agreed on the formation of an "election court", with judges from the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, to rule in any election-related legal disputes, the statement said.
It said Fatah police would guard voting sites in the West Bank and Hamas police would deploy in Gaza, effectively freezing out more secretive security services whose presence might intimidate voters.
Fatah and Hamas also agreed to release detainees held on political grounds in the West Bank and Gaza and allow unrestricted campaigning.
Abbas, 85, announced in January the dates for the votes, and he is expected to run for re-election.
There are 2.8 million eligible voters in Gaza and the West Bank. The last ballot, in 2006, ended in a surprise win by Hamas in its first parliamentary elections. That set up a power struggle between Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank.
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; Writing by Jeffrey Heller and Alexandra Hudson; Editing by Peter Cooney)
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