Hamas, Fatah leaders begin talks to end clashes

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Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and Damascus-based chief Khaled Meshaal ofHamas arrived in Mecca, Saudi Arabia for negotiations in an attempt to end the fighting between Hamas and Fatah in the Gaza strip.

Ever since the Hamas movement, which refuses to recognize Israel and stop attacks on Israel, won elections for the Palestinian parliament last year, there have been repeated clashes between the two groups.The result has been over 80 deaths.

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah called the talks in order to stop the violence and help both sides to come to an agreement and establish some sort of unity government.

Hamas and Fatah officials said they hoped the leaders would come together for a meeting with King Abdullah later on Tuesday night. The leaders are expected to take a pilgrimage to the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Islam's holiest site, before opening talks, which are expected to continue on Wednesday.

The United States and the European Union have labelled Hamas a terrorist organization and have blocked financial aid until the movement recognizes Israel and agrees to uphold previous agreements with Israel signed by the Palestinian Authority.

Senior Abbas aide, Azzam al-Ahmad, said the talks would aim to persuade Hamas to accept the program of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which would involve an implicit Hamas recognition of Israel that could end the aid blockade.

If indeed such a government can be formed it will allow the resumption of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians that were stopped in 2003. Previous attempts to negotiate an agreement between the two Palestinian groups have ended in cease- fire that have lasted only a short time.