Palestinian leaders begin talks in Mecca

Iran Materials 7 February 2007 14:55 (UTC +04:00)

(www.ap.org) вЂ" Rival Palestinian leaders on Wednesday began crucial talks in this holy city on ending their bloody street battles and resuming the peace process with Israel.

"We came here to agree and we have no other option but to agree," the exiled leader of Hamas, Khaled Mashaal, told the inaugural ceremony in a royal palace.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he and his Fatah delegation had told all their supporters that "we will not leave this holy place until we have agreed on everything good, with God's blessing."

"I tell our people to expect good news, and I hope this (meeting) will not be mere words in the air," Abbas said.

Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who heads the Hamas-led government in the Palestinian territories, added his voice to the spirit of goodwill. "We ask God to grant that this will be a new page in Palestinian-Palestinian relations."

Hamas and Fatah have held numerous discussions on a coalition government since the fall, but talks have foundered on the composition of the government and its relationship to agreements signed with Israel. Hamas has long refused to recognize Israel and the peace accords signed between it and the Palestine Liberation Organization, of which Fatah is the major member, reports Trend.

The political failure has exacerbated the rivalry. Four days of gunbattles between Fatah and Hamas fighters killed more than 30 people and wounded over 200 others until a cease-fire took hold Sunday evening.

The deal is vital for any resumption of the peace process. Israel has refused to talk to the Hamas-led government since it took power after the January 2006 elections. Agreement also would be a big step toward the lifting of the financial embargo that the West imposed on the Hamas government because of its position on Israel, which has left thousands of Palestinian civil servant unpaid for months.