oPt

Palestinians urge truce but violence continues

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By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA, May 14 (Reuters) - Palestinian factions renewed on Monday a pledge to work to keep gunmen off Gaza streets following the biggest surge in factional fighting in months, although several gunbattles were reported hours later.

The talks between the Islamic group Hamas and the secular Fatah faction followed the resignation of the interior minister, who was supposed to have overseen security forces to try to stop increasing chaos that has revived fears of civil war.

Hours after the groups met, a Hamas militant was killed by what medics said was gunfire, as clashes between rival gunmen raged in the territory, witnesses said. Four Palestinians, including two militants, were killed in earlier violence.

Ten people have been killed in Gaza since a new round of violence erupted on Friday, which revived fears of civil war. Palestinian groups declared a truce months ago to end chaos.

Palestinian Interior Minister Hani al-Qawasmi had resigned over frustration by competition from powerful Fatah rivals for control of the armed contingents, officials said.

Palestinian witnesses also reported unidentified gunmen had abducted a lecturer from the Islamic University, which is largely known to support Hamas. There was no immediate comment from the Palestinian factions.

Officials said following talks with Prime Minister and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, who has since taken over Qawasmi's duties, leaders from both sides agreed all gunmen aside from the Palestinian police would be removed from Gaza streets.

"Fatah and Hamas leaders have promised that both sides will end all forms of tensions, end armed displays, remove gunmen and checkpoints from the streets and swap hostages," Palestinian cabinet spokesman Ghazi Hamad said.

Past police deployments have not fully secured the territory, which has sunk further into poverty and political disarray since Israel withdrew troops and settlers in 2005.

TENSE STREETS

Qawasmi's resignation had cast new doubt on whether power-sharing between Islamist Hamas and secular Fatah could continue. Filling the interior ministry post had been one of the main obstacles to forming a unity government in February.

"We are afraid that some people want to shoot the bullet of mercy against the Mecca agreement," Fatah official Abdel-Hakim Awad said, referring to the Saudi-brokered unity coalition agreement, which also included pledges to end chaos.

"We will work to prevent that because if it happened, it would bring a catastrophe to the internal situation and the area will sink in a blood bath."

Earlier, sources in President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah said tensions stoked by the renewed violence with Hamas, after a new ceasefire was announced late on Sunday, could lead to the collapse of the unity government within days.

"Talk during the night is like butter -- it melts at sunrise," a man on a bicycle, referring to the truce negotiations, shouted as he passed near masked gunmen closing a main street in Gaza City.

Both sides had planned to pull gunmen off the streets a day before Palestinians mark the "Naqba", or what they describe as the tragedy that befell them when Israel was created in 1948.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, testifying to a parliamentary committee, reaffirmed Israel's position that with what she called a "terrorist group", Hamas, in power, the time was not ripe for full negotiations on Palestinian statehood. (Additional reporting by Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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