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Rival Palestinian Factions Open Dialogue to Ease Tensions


Rival Palestinian factions have opened talks aimed at easing tensions, which have escalated since the Islamic militant group militant group Hamas took power eight weeks ago. Delegates in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip met by video link because of Israeli travel restrictions.

Hamas and the rival Fatah faction called a two-day conference on "national dialogue" to try to bridge differences that have pushed the sides into open conflict. Shootings, kidnappings and assassinations have left at least 10 people dead over the past few weeks and raised fears of a Palestinian civil war.

Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas told delegates he is committed to unity.

He vowed to avoid civil war, saying the Palestinians are brothers and the enemy is the Israeli occupation.

A power struggle between Mr. Haniyeh and moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah has led to gun battles, with both leaders deploying rival security forces on the streets of Gaza.

They also disagree over how to deal with Israel. Hamas seeks Israel's destruction, a position that has brought international sanctions and left the new government broke. Mr. Abbas, who is backed by the United States and Europe, supports peace talks with Israel and a two-state solution.

In a dramatic announcement, Mr. Abbas said that he will call a national referendum on accepting a Palestinian state alongside Israel, if Hamas does not agree to the idea within 10 days. The referendum would take place 40 days after that.

Hamas officials accepted the referendum, saying the people should be allowed to decide. Analysts say such a vote could allow Hamas to moderate its position without appearing that it caved into international pressure.

The proposed Palestinian state would be created in all the territories captured by Israel during the Six Day War in 1967, including the West Bank, Gaza, and the sacred Old City of Jerusalem.