Rival factions call off Gaza meeting

Israel seizes two activists in first raid into Gaza Strip since withdrawal

GAZA CITY (AFP) — A planned meeting between rival Palestinian factions was cancelled at the last minute on Saturday at the request of President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, an official said.

Meanwhile, just hours after Abbas arrived in Gaza Friday, Israeli special forces seized two wanted Palestinians in what was the country’s first raid into the Gaza Strip since its withdrawal last year.

An army spokesman said the two were activists in the Islamist Hamas movement who were plotting to attack Israel.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said that the detainees, brothers Osama and Mustafa Abu Muammar, were sons of a Hamas activist but were not themselves members of the Islamist movement.

The incursion came as Abbas was pushing Hamas to accept an initiative drawn up by jailed faction leaders which calls for a Palestinian state on land occupied in 1967, an end to attacks inside Israel and a national unity government.

If the current talks fail, Abbas, whose Fateh faction was ousted from power in a January vote, has promised to put the so-called prisoners’ initiative to a July 26 referendum, which Hamas considers an attempt to overthrow its government.

In the days following Abbas’ ultimatum, clashes erupted across the West Bank and Gaza between Hamas and Fateh loyalists. Scores died in shootouts and many feared a descent into full-scale civil war.

A one-on-one Abbas-Haniyeh meeting could hasten an agreement in faction talks that were originally meant to last a week but which are now stretching into day 10, with significant differences still unresolved.

A planned meeting between feuding factions was cancelled at the last minute on Saturday at the request of Abbas and Haniyeh who wished to hammer out an agreement between themselves before presenting it to the factions.

After earlier meetings failed to materialise, Hamas spokesman Ghazi Hamad said the two leaders would meet Saturday evening and that a final agreement was near.

“It is possible that we will reach agreement this evening during the meeting,” Hamad said.

Fateh lawmaker Azzam Al Ahmed was only slightly more tempered in his optimism. “We are in the home stretch and I think conditions will be ripe within the next 48 hours,” Ahmed said.

Officials from both Fateh and Hamas have been making upbeat declarations for days, but with little to show for it.

Negotiators remained at odds over crucial points, namely acceptance of a Palestinian state based on borders in place before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, the supremacy of the Palestine Liberation Organisation and talks with Israel. Since assuming power in March, the Hamas government has faced international sanctions over its refusal to recognise Israel and renounce violence. It is thought that agreeing to the Abbas-backed initiative could allow Hamas to satisfy international demands without alienating its hardline base.

In the northern West Bank city of Nablus, meanwhile, a Palestinian member of Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, loosely affiliated with Abbas’ Fateh movement, was wounded Saturday when a bomb meant for an Israeli jeep exploded prematurely, security sources and witnesses said.

The blast in Balata refugee camp came during a gunfight between Israeli soldiers and activists at the camp’s front gate

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