Representatives of rival Palestinian factions headed to the Egyptian capital Cairo Monday to begin key talks aiming at reconciliation and the formation of a unity government.

The meeting on Tuesday will be the first substantive talks between President Mahmoud Abbas' secular Fatah movement and its bitter Islamist rival Hamas since the two groups severed ties following Hamas' violent take-over of the Gaza Strip.

Last month, the two sides agreed to form committees to tackle outstanding issues. One of them will deal with forming a unity government that would mainly comprise moderate members of both Hamas and Fatah.

A London-based Arabic daily reported that Hamas and Fatah are heading for Cairo as a preliminary deal on power sharing is already being discussed.

"The deal says Hamas will get 10 portfolios, Fatah eight and the rest of the ministries will be for the other factions and the independents," al-Hayat newspaper reported.

However, Abbas opposes such a government, the newspaper said, and prefers a government of technocrats with independents holding most of its posts. Hamas in any case is said to insist on either having the premiership or at least selecting it.

The Gaza Strip and West Bank are ruled by two feuding governments, since Hamas routed pro-Abbas forces from the Gaza Strip in 2007. On Saturday, Acting Premier Salam Fayyad of West Bank government resigned to pave the way for the formation of a new government, but Abbas asked him to continue until the new government is formed.

Hamas, which controls Gaza with a government that Abbas fired, has demanded to extend its rule to West Bank until the formation of the unity government.

In Cairo, other committees will discuss ways to settle the remaining controversial issues of security, the elections, the reform of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and reconciliation.