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« NIGERIA: Surveillance efforts to increase after reported bird flu death | Main | Optimism as North Korea readies for nuclear talks »

February 05, 2007

Hamas PM urges unity deal with Abbas as truce holds

GAZA (Reuters) - Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas said on Monday he hoped a meeting with President Mahmoud Abbas would result in an agreement on a unity government to end a crippling Western embargo.

Mon Feb 5, 2007 7:23am ET

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

Haniyeh and Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal will hold talks in Mecca on Tuesday with a Fatah delegation led by Abbas which also aim to end factional warfare which has killed more than 80 Palestinians since December.

"There may be obstacles but we confirm that we are going with true intentions to reach a Palestinian-Palestinian agreement that would end tensions and reinforce national unity," Haniyeh said at the weekly cabinet meeting in Gaza.

"We have no choice but to reach an agreement," he said.

Haniyeh said a ceasefire deal between rival Hamas and Fatah forces was taking hold and he hoped it would last. "The government is determined that calm should be a permanent one and not temporary," he said.

In Gaza City gunmen from rival factions stood down, with minor violations reported.

Members of the governing Hamas faction and rival Fatah conducted joint patrols of the Gaza Strip to ensure that their gunmen had left the bullet-pocked streets and removed checkpoints as required by the ceasefire's midnight deadline.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum accused Fatah of violating the ceasefire by abducting four Hamas members and refusing to pull gunmen off several rooftops in Gaza City.

"Such violations could blow up the internal situation and endanger the Mecca dialogue," he told Reuters.

While both sides had released some hostages taken during the fighting, officials said that Hamas still held nine Fatah men while 32 members of Hamas remained in Fatah custody.

PREVIOUS TRUCES

Previous truces fell apart quickly amid tensions that have spiraled since Hamas, an Islamist group whose charter calls for Israel's destruction, trounced Fatah in elections last year, prompting the West to suspend aid unless it moderates its stand.

Abbas's call in December for new elections triggered an especially fierce round of fighting. Hamas accused Abbas, the Fatah leader, of engineering a coup. At least 80 people have been killed in clashes since.

Abbas said he would give talks one last chance to form a coalition government between Hamas and Fatah.

"Fatah has always been interested in an agreement, an agreement that serves the Palestinian interest and would get our people out of the internal, regional and international crisis," Tawfiq Abu Khoussa, a Fatah spokesman, said.

But he noted that previous rounds of negotiations had been abandoned after Hamas stuck to its refusal to accept Western demands that the government recognize the Jewish state, renounce violence and accept past Israeli-Palestinian accords.

"Optimism alone is not enough, our people have witnessed long dialogues and numerous meetings. We want to get out (from Mecca) with a national agreement," he said.

Failure to clinch an agreement in Mecca appeared certain to trigger more fighting on Gaza's still tense streets.

Hamas's Izz el-Deen al-Qassam brigades armed wing said it continued to hold a nephew of Mohammad Dahlan, Fatah's most powerful leader in Gaza and a top security aide to Abbas.

Qassam Brigades has also called on the Fatah forces that stormed and burned part of Gaza's Islamic University on Friday to turn themselves in to the brigade's leaders by Wednesday night or face "punishment".

Posted by Publisher at February 5, 2007 01:05 PM

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