Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Palestinians set for Mecca talks

Palestinian leaders whose factions have engaged in deadly battles are preparing for talks in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, seen as a last chance to avoid civil war.

Hopes are high the meeting between PM Ismail Haniya and President Mahmoud Abbas may lead to a unity government and revitalise peace moves with Israel.

Mr Haniya's Hamas and Mr Abbas's Fatah factions have been locked in a bitter power struggle over the last year.

About 60 people have been killed in the Gaza Strip in the last two weeks.

There may be obstacles but we confirm that we are going with true intentions to reach a Palestinian-Palestinian agreement
Ismail Haniya
However, a shaky ceasefire has been holding since Saturday, after the latest round of violence flared last week.

And the signals emerging from both camps ahead of Tuesday's talks have been distinctly positive, says the BBC's Alan Johnston in Gaza.

There is talk of progress having been made in the run-up to the meeting, with both sides saying they are hopeful a deal will bring them together in unity government.

Saudi motives

Replacing the current Hamas-led government with a more moderate coalition might enable the Palestinians to re-engage more fully with the West, says our correspondent.

Hamas has so far refused to recognise Israel or renounce violence - both preconditions to end a crippling Western aid boycott of the Hamas government.

"There may be obstacles but we confirm that we are going with true intentions to reach a Palestinian-Palestinian agreement that would end tensions and reinforce national unity," said Mr Haniya.

Earlier Hamas-Fatah meetings - brokered by other Arab countries, Egypt, Syria and Qatar - have been preceded by equally optimistic words, but have led to nothing.

But there is a feeling that this time could be different, our correspondent says.

There is huge domestic and international pressure on the two parties for a breakthrough, and the talks are being held in the auspicious surroundings of Islam's most holy city.

The mediating will be done by Saudi Arabia, which has significant political and financial clout.

Saudi Arabia also has its own motives for seeking a solution to the crisis in Gaza, says the BBC's Middle East analyst Roger Hardy.

Saudi leaders are deeply uneasy about the role of Iran in three of the region's main trouble spots - Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine, he says.

Saudi Arabia may have ambitions of filling a leadership vacuum in the Arab world, he says - though whether they are capable of doing so remains to be seen.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2007/02/06 13:06:48 GMT

No comments: