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Palestinian Factions Begin Talks in Mecca

07 February 2007

Leaders of the two main Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, are meeting in the Muslim holy city of Mecca to try to form a unity government and end the intra-Palestinian violence that has rocked Gaza. The host of the meeting, Saudi Arabia, says solving the crisis is more urgent than ever. VOA Correspondent Challiss McDonough reports from our Middle East bureau in Cairo.

The rival Palestinian leaders met in Islam's holiest city in an effort to end the deadly factional fighting and begin moving toward a unity government.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas vowed to bring concrete results back to the Palestinian people.

"We tell them to expect good news," he said. "I tell them that we will not leave this place without an agreement."

The open-ended talks in Mecca follow a violent week in Gaza, where more than 20 people died in gun battles between Fatah and Hamas before a truce took effect Sunday. The two sides are trying to re-start negotiations on forming a national unity government. Earlier negotiations have repeatedly broken down without results.

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said he hoped the sacred setting for this new round of talks would inspire the participants to reach a deal.

"In fact, we came here to agree and we have no other option but to agree," he said.

Turning to face Mr. Abbas, Meshaal said both of them had to tell their supporters to respect the truce.

"We want to give a message to the nation, and the world, to create a positive atmosphere for these talks and make this dialogue a success," he said.

"This has to continue during and after the talks," Mr. Abbas responded.

Hamas parliamentary leader Ismail Haniyeh, who was also at the meeting, said there should be what he called an "honor code" preventing factional fighting in the Palestinian territories. He said he is praying for a "new page" in Palestinian internal relations.

One of the key issues in the talks is control over the Palestinian security forces. Another is whether Hamas will agree to abide by earlier peace agreements with Israel.

Israel has warned that it will not accept or negotiate with any Palestinian government that does not explicitly renounce violence and recognize Israel's right to exist.

Hamas has long refused to recognize Israel. The group, which won a large majority in last year's parliamentary elections, also rejects previous peace deals signed by Israel and the Fatah-led PLO.

Saudi King Abdullah did not attend the talks himself, but he did host a lunch for the leaders. Saudi Arabia is taking an unusually public role in these negotiations. The kingdom generally prefers to work behind the scenes when it comes to diplomacy. But Saudi leaders have expressed concern that the violence in Gaza could spill over to the wider region, and have decided to move more assertively in an effort to prevent that.

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