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Rival Palestinian Factions Enforce New Cease-Fire in Gaza


Rival Palestinian factions are enforcing a new cease-fire in the Gaza Strip. Two Palestinian policemen were killed shortly after the cease-fire began, but as Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, since then the truce appears to be taking hold.

Gunmen from the ruling Islamic militant group Hamas and the rival Fatah faction withdrew from the streets of Gaza after their leaders agreed to a fresh cease-fire. After days of gun battles that kept ordinary Palestinians indoors, people were back on the streets, and shops and businesses were open.

Clashes erupted over the weekend, after moderate Palestinian President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas called early elections in a bid to topple the Hamas-led government. The fighting raised fears of civil war, and an earlier cease-fire collapsed within 24 hours.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas appealed for calm.

Mr. Haniyeh urged Palestinians to resolve their differences through dialogue. At the same time, he rejected early elections, describing it as a plot by the United States to overthrow the Hamas regime.

The elections were also rejected by al-Qaida, the Islamic group responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

Al-Qaida's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahri, accused Mr. Abbas of being a servant of America who recognizes Israel in defiance of the jihad. In a video tape, he said elections would deal a blow to holy war against the Israeli occupation.

Hamas and al-Qaida are State Department designated terrorist groups.

With Hamas being backed by the most radical elements in the region, Israel wants to strengthen President Abbas, who is also known as Abu Mazen.

"The Israeli government has always said that we are for the moderates in the Palestinian community, and Abu Mazen has been one of those moderates," said Israeli spokeswoman Miri Eisen. "He has spoken clearly of his support for negotiations."

Palestinian officials say they expect Mr. Abbas to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in the coming days.

In a separate development, Israeli troops killed two Palestinian militants near the West Bank town of Jenin early Wednesday. The Israeli army also has suspended two soldiers involved in Tuesday's shooting death of a Palestinian girl in the West Bank. The army says it is investigating the circumstances of the incident.