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Rival Palestinian factions agree to end clashes

The factions associated with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the Hamas group agreed on a truce Wednesday. This comes as Abbas is threatening to hold a vote on a statehood proposal, which the  Hamas group opposes.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Hamas-led government agreed Wednesday to withdraw a controversial private militia from public areas of Gaza in an agreement with the rival Fatah movement aimed at halting weeks of bloody infighting.

The black-clad Hamas militia has been at the center of the power struggle.

“They are going to be in places away from the public. They are not going to be visible to people,” said government spokesman Ghazi Hamad. Under the arrangement, the militia is to be folded into the official Palestinian police force, he said.

The agreement came after hours of talks mediated by Egyptian diplomats and joined by Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, a top Hamas official.

Hamas also agreed to withdraw the 3,000-member force from public view last week. But within days, the gunmen returned to their positions on the streets. After Wednesday’s deal was announced, the Hamas force remained in public view.

Removing tensions in streets
President Mahmoud Abbas, who leads Fatah, has been in a power struggle with Hamas since the Islamic group beat his party in legislative elections in January. The feud has revolved around control of the security forces.

With most security forces loyal to Fatah, the Hamas government deployed its private militia last month. Sixteen people have been killed in fighting between the sides since the Hamas force was activated.

Abbas has said the Hamas force is illegal but said it could be folded into existing security agencies.

“In this meeting, we agreed to remove all things that can lead to tensions in the Palestinian streets,” said Abdel Hakim Awad, a Fatah spokesman.

The attempt to halt the violence came amid a deeper disagreement over an ultimatum by Abbas for Hamas to recognize Israel or face a referendum on the idea. Abbas has given the Islamic group until the weekend to respond.

Abbas has endorsed the plan for a united Palestinian political platform as a way out of an increasingly bloody power struggle with Hamas, which defeated his Fatah party in legislative elections earlier this year.

Fighting did not immediately halt
In the latest violence, a commander in the Fatah-dominated police force in northern Gaza said a group of gunmen tried to detonate a bomb near his house early Wednesday.

“Some gunmen set up this device near the entrance to my house. While they were doing this, it went off and one of the gunmen was injured in his hand,” said the commander, Omar Khadoura.

A grenade attack Tuesday on a pro-Fatah security headquarters in Gaza wounded three maintenance workers. Fatah blamed Hamas for both attacks.

Referendum plan looms
The talks did not discuss Abbas’ referendum plan. Backing away from open confrontation, Abbas on Tuesday put off his ultimatum for Hamas to accept a document that implies recognition of Israel or face the voters.

Israel and Western donors have suspended hundreds of millions of dollars in cash transfers to the Palestinians, demanding the Hamas-led government renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist. Hamas has rejected the conditions.

Hamas welcomed the offer to continue talks, but said it will not cave in to deadlines. It has demanded changes in the language and called for more time to discuss it.

“I get a sense there is a positive attitude in the national dialogue. But it still needs more time,” Haniyeh said.

Without agreement, Abbas is expected to set a date for the referendum on Thursday or Friday.

In unrelated incidents, three Palestinians were killed in clashes with Israeli forces next the Gaza-Israel border fence, Palestinian security and hospital officials said. One of the dead was a policeman hit by a tank shell. Five people were wounded, including three police and a child, they said.

Israel said soldiers opened fire on suspicious figures approaching the fence.