GAZA CITY (Palestinian Territories) - Palestinian election officials will begin work on updating the electoral register in the Gaza Strip on Monday in a key step to pave the way for elections, an official said on Sunday.
On May 20, senior Fatah and Hamas officials agreed that the Palestinian electoral commission would start work in Gaza on May 27 and that consultations to form a new interim "government of independents" would start the same day.
But Jamil Khaldi, head of the Central Elections Commission (CEC) in Gaza, said work would only begin on Monday after the arrival of CEC president Hanna Nasser.
"Nothing will happen today. The CEC delegation led by Hanna Nasser will arrive in Gaza on Monday and we will all have a meeting with (Hamas) Prime Minister Ismail Haniya. Immediately afterwards, we will start our work," he said.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri confirmed that the CEC president would arrive on Monday and hold talks with Haniya but said there were a few technical issues to be resolved before the commission could begin updating the voter lists.
"We are committed to what we agreed on regarding the start of preparations for voter registrations," he said.
Discussions between Hamas and Fatah officials over the interim government were also due to start in Cairo on Sunday.
According to a posting late Saturday on the Facebook page of top Hamas official Mussa Abu Marzuk, talks between the two delegations would begin on Sunday as planned.
"A meeting will be held tomorrow, Sunday May 27, between Fatah and Hamas delegations to start consultations over forming a new government," he wrote.
But a senior Hamas official in Gaza said the meeting would not take place for several days.
"The meeting between the Fatah and Hamas delegations will not happen today or tomorrow," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"Fatah refused to meet before the Central Elections Commission starts work, which won't happen for a few days," he said, indicating that although CEC officials were to meet on Monday, its work to update the lists would not start for several days.
Under the terms of a reconciliation deal signed by Hamas and Fatah in Cairo on May 3, 2011, the two factions were to put together a caretaker cabinet of independent technocrats tasked with preparing for presidential and legislative elections within a year of the signing of the accord.
But the rival factions never managed to agree on the makeup of the interim government, meaning preparations for holding elections have never got off the ground.
The last time the Palestinians held elections was in 2006, and since then, the electoral register in Gaza has not been updated, despite various attempts to do so.
Earlier this month, a new 25-member cabinet took office in the Fatah-run West Bank which said one of its top priorities was preparing for local elections ahead of presidential and parliamentary polls.
The move was denounced by Hamas as a blow to reconciliation efforts, but it also appeared to breathe life into the stalled unity agreement, with both parties announcing plans to make a fresh bid to piece together the long-promised caretaker government.
Several weeks ago, Abbas also amended the electoral law, making it possible for elections to be held at different times in the West Bank and Gaza.
Previously, the law stated that elections must be held simultaneously in both territories.