The Palestinian election commission began updating voter registration lists in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Monday, paving the way for new elections in a step toward reconciliation between rival Fatah and Hamas governments.
It was the first time the commission updated voter records in Gaza in seven years, underscoring the event's gravity for Palestinians, who have seen elections repeatedly delayed because of fighting between the rival groups. Hamas and Fatah officials had authorized the commission to update voter records to prepare for elections, a key part of any reconciliation effort.
Still, while Palestinian law requires elections to be held within three months of completing the registration drive, no date has been set for voting, and disagreements have repeatedly prevented elections from taking place in the past.
Hamas seized control of Gaza from the Fatah-led forces of President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007. The rift is a major obstacle to Palestinian independence and years of previous reconciliation efforts have failed to reunite them.
The two sides are expected to meet in the Egyptian capital Cairo this week to try hammer out a reconciliation agreement. But even as voter registration began, Hamas and Fatah officials had yet to agree on what kind of election system they will implement, or how power would be shared.
It was still a positive step, said Fatah official Mohammed al-Madani. "We hope it will lead to positive results, despite points in dispute," he said.
Monday's registration drive took place both in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip and the West Bank, which is governed by the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority.
The commission opened over 600 registration offices, mostly in schools. The election commission said voter registration would continue until Feb. 18.
"I hope I will be able to vote soon in the coming elections, so I can change a little in our hard life," said Maryam Omar, 21, as she stood in a near-empty registration office at the al-Jaleel school in Gaza City.
A falafel vendor outside was less interested.
"I don't believe elections will take place," shrugged Jawdat Hassan, 55. "Even if it happens, I won't vote. I don't trust any of them," he said.