RAMALLAH (Ma’an) -- Electoral registration centers opened in the Gaza Strip on Monday, the first step towards holding long-overdue Palestinian national elections.
The Central Elections Commission announced that 257 voter registration centers were open for one week across the Gaza Strip.
In addition 347 stations will register voters in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. The centers are based in public and UNWRA-affiliated schools, sports clubs, municipal offices and other organizations.
CEC chief Hanna Nasser noted that there are around 350,000 unregistered eligible voters in the Gaza Strip.
The roll has not been updated in Gaza since Jan. 2005. The operation of the CEC in Gaza is a boost to reconciliation efforts between Fatah, which dominates the West Bank government, and Hamas, which rules Gaza.
In July last year, Hamas suspended the CEC's work a day before it was due to begin registering voters in Gaza, citing the continued arrest of Hamas members in the West Bank and its questions over the commission's impartiality.
After almost two years of stalling and setbacks, the parties' leaders agreed in January to press ahead with the May 2011 deal to reunite Palestine under one government.
Hamas chief Khalid Mashaal and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas agreed that the CEC would resume operations in Gaza by the end of January, paving the way for fresh national elections.
The factions met in Cairo last week to discuss forming a joint interim government to oversee elections. Most participants in the talks said there was little progress made.
At a press conference on Monday in Gaza City, Hana Nasser said that the CEC would continue to work on the electoral registers regardless of the outcome of the ongoing dialogue between factions in Cairo.
"Whether talks are successful or reach a deadlock, we will continue to register voters hoping to finally carry out elections and resume the democratic process in Palestine as it used to be in past years," he told reporters.
Nasser said that after registration ends of Feb. 18, data processing will take between four and six weeks, after which electoral registers will be ready for use whenever the Palestinian leadership decides to carry out elections.
Both the parliament and the president's terms have expired during the electoral impasse. Hamas and Fatah split into separate governments in 2007.