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US, Israel denounce Palestinian unity plan

Wednesday - 4/23/2014, 5:20pm  ET

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) -- It could be a historic step toward ending a split that has left Palestinians divided between two sets of rulers for the past seven years. Rival factions Hamas and Fatah have agreed to form a unity government and hold new elections.

Similar efforts in the past have repeatedly failed.

The U.S. and Israel are condemning the agreement. Israel and the West consider Hamas to be a terrorist group. It is sworn to the destruction of Israel, and it's killed hundreds of Israelis in bombings and shootings over the past two decades.

Israel's prime minister canceled a planned meeting for this evening between Israeli and Palestinian peace negotiators. Benjamin Netanyahu says Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, from the Fatah party, "needs to choose between peace with Israel and an agreement with Hamas."

The State Department says it's "disappointed and troubled" by the announcement -- and that Israel can't be expected to negotiate with "a government that does not believe in its right to exist."

In 2007, Hamas seized Gaza from forces loyal to Abbas, leaving Abbas with only parts of the West Bank. Both sides have become entrenched, setting up separate governments and their own security forces. It's been a major obstacle to Abbas' goal of establishing an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza.

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APPHOTO XAH103: Senior Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmad, left, talks to Gaza's Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, during a press conference after the announcement of an agreement between the two rival Palestinian groups, Hamas and Fatah, at Haniyeh's residence in Shati Refugee Camp, Gaza Strip, Wednesday, April 23, 2014. Hamas and Fatah made a new attempt Wednesday to overcome the Palestinians' political split, saying they would seek to form an interim unity government within five weeks, followed by general elections by December at the earliest. (AP Photo/Adel Hana) (23 Apr 2014)

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