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Palestinian factions agree to Saudi talks

No date is set for Mecca summit. Abductions and fighting between Hamas and Fatah continue; 26 have died in three days.

January 29, 2007|From Reuters

GAZA CITY — Saudi Arabia on Sunday invited feuding Palestinian factions for talks in Islam's holy city of Mecca to try to end the fiercest internal fighting since Hamas' election victory a year ago.

Both sides agreed to attend the meeting, but no date was set. Meanwhile, the death toll from three days of fighting between Hamas and Fatah forces rose to 26. The deaths included a Hamas militant gunned down in Gaza City and a bystander.

Spiraling violence has derailed talks on forming a coalition government between the ruling Islamist Hamas movement and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah faction.

In the latest in a string of tit-for-tat abductions, gunmen loyal to Hamas kidnapped and released Brig. Gen. Sayyed Shabban, the head of the Palestinian national security forces, in central Gaza, a security source said.

Shabban is believed to be the most senior official to have been abducted during the factional fighting.

Unknown gunmen also kidnapped two teenage children of a Fatah colonel and threatened to kill them unless all Hamas abductees were released.

Two top Hamas commanders, a senior Fatah intelligence officer and a Fatah municipal official were also taken captive. One of the Hamas commanders, Ashraf Ferwana, and the Fatah intelligence officer were later released.

Exploding grenades and automatic gunfire echoed in Gaza City as battles raged after dark. Fighting also broke out in the southern Gaza Strip.

Residents said some families were evacuating homes near the fighting. Others kept children inside and stayed away from windows, fearing sniper fire.

Schools across the narrow, densely populated territory, home to 1.5 million Palestinians, were closed Sunday, and only a few shops opened, for people buying emergency supplies.

"We appeal to all our people, you have to preserve national unity. The language of dialogue and reason must prevail," Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas said at the start of an emergency Cabinet meeting.

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