Hamas said on Monday that it has accepted an Egyptian initiative for ending its power struggle with Fatah, paving the way for new presidential and parliamentary elections.
Mahmoud Zahar, a senior Hamas representative from the Gaza Strip, said that his movement's response to the initiative has been "positive."
Hamas, he said, supports Egypt's efforts to reconcile it with Fatah and end the split between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Zahar's declaration came as a Hamas delegation headed by the movement's Damascus-based leader, Khaled Mashaal, arrived in Cairo to deliver their reply to the initiative.
Zahar stressed, however, that Hamas's positive response does not mean that the movement has made any concessions.
"Our position is based on reality," Zahar told reporters in the Egyptian capital. "This is a true attempt to solve all the problems and reach a unity agreement."
Ahmed Yusef, a political adviser to Hamas, described the Egyptian initiative as balanced and acceptable.
But another top Hamas official, Khalil al-Hayeh, sounded more cautious.
He said that the Hamas delegation would hold a series of meetings with Egyptian security officials before announcing its final stance toward the initiative.
He added that Hamas had reservations about the plan that it wanted to discuss with the Egyptians.
Hamas's reservations are limited to a number of issues concerning elections and security.
The Egyptian proposal calls for holding presidential and parliamentary elections in the first half of 2010.
Hamas insists that the vote be held only after it reaches a reconciliation accord with Fatah.
In addition, Hamas wants the elections to be based on a system that gives lists of candidates 70 percent representation and the remaining 30% to districts.
Hamas's position is very close to the Egyptian proposal, which talks about 75%-25%.
Fatah, on the other hand, wants 80% to come from the candidate lists and only 20% from districts.
A Hamas legislator and spokesman in the Gaza Strip said Mashaal told the Egyptians that he had no objections to the establishment of a national-unity government with Fatah that would not have a political agenda.
Such a government would serve as a transitional government until elections are held, he said.
Hamas, he said, also supports the idea of merging 3,000 of its men into a new security force that would operate jointly with Fatah in the Gaza Strip under Egyptian and Arab supervision.
Fatah initially rejected the idea of holding elections sometime during the first half of 2010 and insisted that the vote be conducted on January 25, when the term of the Palestinian Legislative Council expires.
Azzam al-Ahmed, a senior Fatah official and close adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, welcomed Hamas's apparent positive reply to the Egyptian plan and expressed hope that it would facilitate the signing of a reconciliation accord between the sides.
Ahmed said Hamas and Fatah should resolve their differences so that they would be able to "confront the occupation's schemes and defend the Aksa Mosque against attempts to turn Jerusalem into a Jewish city."
The Fatah official said that although he still hadn't heard from the Egyptians about the Hamas reply, there was room for optimism in light of positive statements made by some Hamas leaders in the past 24 hours.
"The time has come to end this tragic chapter in the history of our people," he said. "Otherwise, Israel will continue to exploit our differences and divisions.â€¢