- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 4, 2007

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - Hamas gunmen attacked bases of Fatah-allied troops with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades early yesterday, part of a four-day campaign by the Islamic militants to weaken the security forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

As night fell, efforts were underway to restore a truce. Gunmen pulled back from their positions, to be replaced by police officers. Both sides began to exchange hostages and joint Hamas-Fatah patrols took to the streets to monitor the cease-fire. Previous truces have broken down quickly.

In the West Bank, a strategy session by Fatah leaders ended in a shouting match, with some participants demanding that Mr. Abbas’ party take a tougher stand against Hamas in the struggle for control of the Palestinian government, and others pushing to give a mediation effort by Saudi Arabia a chance. In one particularly angry exchange, participants threw an empty cup and a shoe at each other, witnesses said.

“We all agreed that Hamas has been trying for a long time to impose its control on the Gaza Strip, and Fatah needs to stand up to this policy of Hamas,” said Amin Makboul, one of the group’s members. Under fierce debate, though, is how to do so.

The infighting among Palestinians has overshadowed new efforts to restart the peace process with Israel. Hamas refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist and its hard-line approach has drawn international sanctions that have crippled the Palestinian economy. Mr. Abbas has sought negotiations in the past, but lately has been distracted by the power struggle within his own government.

Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres said yesterday that Israel must not intervene in the internal Palestinian fighting.

“We need to leave Gaza to the Gazans,” Mr. Peres told Israel Army Radio. “Our intervention will not help; on the contrary, it will draw all the fire toward Israel. We need to leave the Gazans to deal with it and hope that it settles itself.”

Mr. Abbas, Hamas’ exiled leader Khalid Mashaal and Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas are to meet in Islam’s holy city of Mecca tomorrow for reconciliation talks hosted by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, the highest-profile mediation effort in several weeks of fighting.

The Palestinian ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Jamal Shobaki, said the meeting will be open-ended and will focus on negotiating a platform for a national unity government and distributing Cabinet positions.

More than 130 Palestinians have been killed in the factional fighting since May. The bloodiest round began Thursday, killing 28 persons and wounding more than 230 in four days.

Since Thursday, Hamas gunmen have attacked more than a dozen security installations in what appeared to be a systematic campaign to weaken Mr. Abbas’ control of Gaza.

Late Saturday and early yesterday, Hamas fired mortar shells and rocket-propelled grenades at a training camp of the Presidential Guard and Mr. Abbas’ nearby office compound in Gaza City. Mr. Abbas was not in Gaza during the current round of fighting.

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