Abbas holds truce talks in violence-scarred Gaza

GAZA CITY (AFP) — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas convened talks on Wednesday hoping to consolidate a truce between rival factions in Gaza and revive a ceasefire with Israel after bloodshed that has cost 90 lives.

He met Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh away from the cameras at a secret location to discuss strengthening a fragile five-day Palestinian truce that halted deadly clashes between their secular Fateh and Islamist Hamas factions.

Abbas, the Fateh chairman, and Haniyeh of Hamas thrashed out ways to shore up the ceasefire and end armed clashes between their supporters, presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina said.

The president also discussed, as he was also expected to with armed factions later on Wednesday, “the question of a truce [in Israeli-Palestinian violence]  and the possibility of expanding it”, said Haniyeh spokesman Ghazi Hamad.

“Abu Mazen and Haniyeh discussed the escalation of Israeli aggression, especially the assassinations and air strikes,” said Abu Rudeina.

Fateh and Hamas loyalists waged fierce street battles for a week, leaving more than 50 people dead, shaking their fragile unity government and sparking international calls for restraint before abiding by a truce on Saturday.

The bloodshed, coupled with stepped up Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel and resumed Israeli air strikes,  undercut international efforts to revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

A six-month truce with Israel collapsed during the internecine Palestinian bloodshed in Gaza as fighters fired scores of rockets towards the Jewish state and Israel retaliated with the deadly air raids.

On Monday, the beleaguered Palestinian government called for a comprehensive truce that would apply not only to Gaza but also to the occupied West Bank, although there has been no formal reaction from Israel.

Abbas later began talks with the main armed groups, including Hamas, during which officials said he would ask them to stop firing rockets in order to broker a truce for Israel to stop operations in Gaza and the West Bank.

Israeli air strikes in Gaza have killed 12 civilians and 25 fighters since they resumed last week.

The raids have failed to halt the rockets, however. More than 120 have slammed into Israel over the past week, killing a woman, wounding 16 others and sending hundreds fleeing the town of Sderot that has borne the brunt of the fire.

In all 90 people, including at least 20 civilians, have been killed in Gaza since Fateh-Hamas fighting sparked the bloodshed on May 13. Fifty-three people have died in the inter-Palestinian violence.

Israel has threatened that no leaders in Hamas — the senior movement in the Palestinian coalition government — were immune from attack.

On Wednesday, six more rockets exploded in southern Israel, without causing casualties or damage, an Israeli military spokeswoman said.

The attacks came after seven people were wounded when Israeli helicopter gunships opened fire over Gaza City and the northern town of Jabaliya, local medics and witnesses said.

Pressing the diplomatic front, Abbas is on Thursday expected to receive EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana in Gaza City.

“We need a political dialogue to solve the crisis… This is the only solution,” Solana, currently in Egypt, said on Tuesday.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon’s newly appointed special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Michael Williams, is also due to begin meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials on Thursday. 

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