Fresh fighting jeopardises Gaza peace talks

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The Independent Online

Hamas and Fatah gunmen fought in Gaza City yesterday as leaders from both sides prepared to head to Saudi Arabia for talks on ending the power struggle.

An especially bloody round of fighting, with 25 people killed and more than 230 wounded since Thursday, has deepened resentment on both sides and made it increasingly difficult to reach a compromise. Gunmen were yesterday seen frequently attacking rival strongholds.

President Mahmoud Abbas, the moderate Fatah leader, and Khaled Mashaal, Hamas's supreme leader, are to meet on Tuesday in Mecca for a reconciliation meeting that is to be hosted by Saudi King Abdullah. The highest-profile mediation effort in several weeks of fighting is increasing pressure on both sides to reach a compromise and form a coalition government acceptable to the West. The current Hamas-run government has been shunned by the international community.

Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, said that he expected talks to go on for several days. Control over the security forces and the wording of a new government programme are seen as the main sticking points. Abbas wants a Hamas commitment to agreements reached by the PLO, including peace deals with Israel.

But last night many in Gaza remained sceptical that a deal could be brokered between the two factions. Ali Ustaz, a resident of the Sheik Radwan district, said: "There is absolutely no hope for any kind of solution."

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