10/02/2006, 00.00
PALESTINE
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More shooting in Gaza as Abbas tells Hamas to sit down and negotiate

Clashes over national unity government are behind the latest intra-Palestinian violence. Mubarak and King make an appeal. US Secretary Rice starts her tour of the Middle East.

Gaza (AsiaNews/Agencies) – More shots were fired between Palestinian security forces loyal to Fatah and Hamas militias. Similar incidents yesterdays left eight people dead and about 100 wounded. No one has been injured in the latest more sporadic incidents.

Hamas and Fatah accuse each in the violent clashes. But Palestinian National Authority (PNA) President Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh from Hamas have appealed for them to stop. So have Jordan's King Abdullah II and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who met yesterday in Cairo to review the situation in the region.

Ostensibly caused by PNA security forces, unpaid for six months, and Hamas militiamen, the clashes are rooted in the ongoing tug-of-war between Abbas and Hamas over the formation of a national unity government which is necessary to renew international aid halted when Hamas came to power. Negotiations stalled over the extremist Hamas's refusal to accept accords already signed between the PNA and Israel which implicitly recognise the Jewish state.

Abbas yesterday said that he was ready to restart negotiations. "I, as a president, have the right to form or dissolve the government at any time, but I say that we should exert every effort to form a unity government" on the basis of Palestinian, international and Arab legality to end the international boycott on the Palestinian people. "Personally I believe that a civil war is a red line and I will not allow it under any circumstances," Abbas told al-Jazeera. "These confrontations have crossed the red line, which we have avoided crossing for four decades," he also said.

President Mubarak and King Abdallah also agreed that there is a "red line" that cannot be crossed. They insisted that Palestinians must speak with a "unified voice".

"The Palestinians," the two leaders said, "should [. . .] prove that there exists a Palestinian partner that could be negotiated with in the establishment of an independent and legitimate state."

National security forces were deployed in Gaza's streets today. Their commander, Tawfiq Jabar, said that he was carrying out President Abbas's orders following the intra-Palestinian "violence and to face the threat that Israel's army might reoccupy the Strip" after 50 Israeli tanks moved into the territory over night to prevent attacks against the Jewish state.

Meantime, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrives today in the Middle East to talk with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Her first stop though is in Saudi Arabia. She will fly next to Egypt and then travel to Israel and the Palestinian territories where she is scheduled to meet Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

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