GAZA - The Hamas-run government in the Gaza Strip said on Wednesday it had relaxed a ban on Palestinian newspapers published outside the enclave as a gesture of reconciliation to rival group Fatah after their unity deal last month.
The announcement came two days after Palestinian President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas met Hamas's leader in exile, Khaled Mashaal, in Qatar for their first talks since the unity pact was signed.
The groups have banned newspapers from each other's territories since Hamas won a 2006 poll and the two parties fought a bloody civil war the following year in which Hamas seized the Gaza Strip and Fatah remained in power in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
The return to Gaza of Al-Quds, the biggest-selling Palestinian daily in the West Bank, was greeted enthusiastically by Gaza residents who snapped up copies from newspaper sellers shouting out its name.
"We are taking steps to end the era of the ugly division and to advance reconciliation," Ehab al-Ghsain, a Hamas government spokesman, said about allowing Al-Quds back into the Gaza Strip.
"We urge the Palestinian Authority to take similar steps in the West Bank," he said.
There was no immediate comment from the Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank under interim peace accords with Israel, on whether it would relax its own restrictions.
Hamas wants Fatah to lift a West Bank ban on the Gaza Strip's two pro-Hamas dailies and a newspaper affiliated with the Islamic Jihad group.
Hamas said it would wait for Abbas's administration to reciprocate before allowing back two other major newspapers it had prohibited.
Al-Quds is an independent daily with articles critical of a wide spectrum of political parties. It is printed in east Jerusalem.
The April 23 reconciliation pact, envisaging the formation of a government within five weeks and a general election six months later, angered Israel, which suspended already troubled US-brokered peace talks with Abbas. Both Israel and the United States classify Hamas as a terrorist organization.
Deep mistrust and enmity have scuppered previous deals to end the internal Palestinian rift, with both sides struggling to reconcile Hamas's commitment to fighting Israel with Abbas's choice to negotiate with it.
In another bid to bolster the unity agreement, Hamas on Monday freed six imprisoned Fatah men in the Gaza Strip who had been convicted of security offenses.