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Hamas Leader to Hold Reconciliation Talks With Abbas


Exiled Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal is to meet Tuesday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Saudi Arabia to try to reconcile differences and stop the factional fighting that has claimed more than 80 Palestinian lives since December. Speaking with reporters at his headquarters in Damascus Sunday evening, Mashaal said the Mecca talks must not fail. VOA's Sonja Pace reports from the Syrian capital.

Khaled Mashaal called for restraint and urged militants from both Hamas and the rival Fatah faction to stop shedding Palestinian blood. That, he said should be reserved for the battle against Israel.

Mashaal called for a permanent cease fire between the factions, beyond the shaky temporary one, which is currently in place. We are doing our best to stop the fighting he said, adding that the meeting in Mecca must not be allowed to fail.

Mashaal and his Fatah rival, President Mahmoud Abbas held talks here in Damascus last month, but failed to reach agreement on forming a national unity government as a prelude to ending the violence.

Tensions between the Islamic Hamas and the secular Fatah faction have been on the rise ever since Hamas won a parliamentary majority in Palestinian elections a year ago. That gave Hamas control of the government, but it has been unable to govern effectively and remains crippled by international sanctions because it refuses to renounce violence and recognize Israel.

The United States, the European Union and Israel, consider Hamas a terrorist organization. Hamas says it is waging a legitimate fight against Israeli occupation.

There have been sporadic confrontations between Hamas and Fatah militants ever since the elections, but the clashes have become increasingly serious. More than 80 Palestinians have been killed in fighting in Gaza since December, when talks on a national unity government collapsed and Mr. Abbas called for new elections.

Speaking in Damascus, Mashaal accused Israel and the United States of exploiting Palestinian differences and he rejected U.S. efforts to strengthen the forces loyal to President Abbas.

Mashaal said this foreign interference will only bring instability and bloodshed and he said the Palestinian people will reject it.

Mashaal said he remains optimistic an agreement can be reached in Mecca - a sentiment echoed in Gaza by Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, who will also participate in the reconciliation talks.