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Gunmen From Rival Palestinian Factions Withdrawing From Gaza Streets

04 February 2007

In a bid to abide by the latest ceasefire, gunmen from rival Palestinian factions are withdrawing from streets in Gaza City, where fighting has killed 28 people since Thursday. Reports from Gaza say after fighting earlier in the day, Hamas and Fatah fighters have been releasing hostages. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, leaders from both sides will hold talks this week.

Gunmen from the ruling Islamic militant group Hamas attacked bases of the rival Fatah faction in Gaza, firing assault rifles, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades. Mortar shells exploded near the offices of moderate Palestinian President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas.

The clashes defied a ceasefire reached Saturday, which aimed to halt the slide toward a Palestinian civil war.

More than 80 Palestinians have been killed in the fighting since December, when talks on a national unity government collapsed and Mr. Abbas called for early elections. Hamas has been crippled by international sanctions because of its refusal to renounce violence and recognize Israel.

President Abbas wants to form a more moderate government, which would be acceptable to the international community and restore the flow of vital aid.

Mr. Abbas will meet with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal on Tuesday in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, in a bid to end the fighting and resume coalition talks.

But Palestinian analyst Wadia Abu Nasser says there is little chance of bridging the gaps.

"I believe that, even if a solution will be reached, it will be a temporary solution because Fatah and Hamas, they have contradictory interests," he said.

Mr. Abbas hopes to achieve Palestinian statehood through internationally-backed peace talks with Israel, while Hamas seeks the destruction of Israel by force.

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