View Full Version : Palestinians Agree To Mecca Talks

01-28-2007, 09:07 PM
Palestinians agree to Mecca talks


By Nidal al-Mughrabi 1 hour, 59 minutes ago

GAZA (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia on Sunday invited feuding Palestinian factions for urgent talks in Islam's holy city of Mecca to try to end the fiercest internal fighting since Hamas's election victory a year ago.

Both sides agreed to attend the meeting but no date was set as the death toll from three days of Gaza infighting rose to 26 with the killing of a Hamas militant in clashes in Gaza City and a civilian who died of wounds he had sustained earlier.

Spiraling violence has derailed unity talks between the ruling Islamist Hamas movement and President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction.

In the latest in a string of tit-for-tat abductions, gunmen loyal to the governing Hamas movement kidnapped and later released Brigadier General Sayyed Shabban, the head of National Security Forces in central Gaza, a security source said.

Shabban is believed to be the most senior official from either side to have been abducted so far in the factional fighting between Hamas and Fatah.

Unknown gunmen also kidnapped two teenage children of a Fatah colonel and threatened to kill them unless all Hamas abductees were released.

Two top Hamas commanders including senior militant Ashraf Ferwana, a senior Fatah intelligence officer and a Fatah municipal official were also taken captive. Ferwana and the Fatah intelligence officer were later released.

Tension among rival forces rose in Gaza despite Saudi King Abdullah's promised intervention.

"I invite them all ... for an urgent meeting in brotherly Saudi Arabia at the sacred house of God to discuss disputes in a neutral (environment) without intervention from any other side," the Saudi monarch said in an open letter.

The Hamas-led government, which defeated once-dominant Fatah in elections a year ago, said it accepted the king's invitation.

Ahmed Abdel-Rahman, a senior Fatah official and an Abbas adviser, also welcomed the invitation and said: "We are ready to go to the Kingdom and to start talks."

It was not immediately clear when the talks would be held.

"I call on my brothers, the Palestinian people, represented by their leaders to put an immediate end to this tragedy and abide by righteousness," King Abdullah said, calling the fighting a "grave crime."

The sounds of exploding grenades and automatic fire echoed in Gaza City as gun battles raged after darkness fell. Fighting also broke out in the southern Gaza strip.

Residents said some families were evacuating homes near the fighting. Others were keeping children inside and staying away from windows, fearing sniper fire.

Schools across the narrow, densely populated territory, home to 1.5 million Palestinians, were closed on Sunday and only a few shops opened for people buying emergency supplies.

"We appeal to all our people, you have to preserve national unity. The language of dialogue and reason must prevail," Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas said at the start of an emergency cabinet meeting.

Haniyeh urged Abbas to pull Fatah gunmen off the streets. But Fatah spokesman Tawfiq Abu Khoussa said the Hamas-led Executive Force was "the major element in tensions and in the continuation of sabotage and killing."

At least 56 Palestinians have been killed in the bloodshed that erupted after Abbas, a moderate, called last month for early presidential and parliamentary elections after inconclusive talks with Hamas on a unity government.

Three people including a 16-year-old youth died in clashes in Khan Younis on Sunday, hospital officials said.

Hamas parliamentarians said on Sunday that Abbas's election call "amounts to a coup against the results of democracy."

Hamas has struggled to govern since taking office in March under the weight of U.S.-backed sanctions imposed over its refusal to recognize

Israel, renounce violence and abide by interim peace deals with the Jewish state.

In the latest skirmishes, Hamas gunmen and members of the Fatah-dominated Preventive Security Service clashed outside its main headquarters in Gaza, witnesses said. A bomb blast damaged the home of a bodyguard of senior Fatah figure Mohammed Dahlan.

In the West Bank city of Nablus at least five Hamas supporters, including a city councilor who was later released, were abducted by the Fatah-linked Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.

Nine Fatah and nine Hamas supporters were still being held in Gaza.