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New Palestinian Truce Takes Hold Ahead of Unity Talks


Another ceasefire between Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip took hold on Monday - before talks scheduled for Tuesday in Saudi Arabia between the leaders of the Hamas and Fatah factions. VOA's Jim Teeple reports from Jerusalem, key figures in both factions say they are confident the talks will lead to a unity Palestinian government.

For the first time since last Thursday residents of the Gaza Strip are enjoying a respite from the incessant fighting that left more than 20 dead and more than 100 wounded in Palestinian factional fighting.

Leaders of Fatah and Hamas, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Khaled Meshaal say they will meet Tuesday in Mecca, Saudi Arabia as guests of Saudi King Abdullah. The two met in Damascus on January 21, but achieved no breakthrough in talks on creating a unity Palestinian government. Now, however both sides say such a deal is imminent.

Fawzi Barhoum a spokesman for Hamas told Israel Radio that obstacles over who will get what cabinet post have been resolved. Barhoum says all that remains is for a new government to be formalized.

Israeli and Palestinian media outlets report that Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, a leading Hamas militant will head the new government, while other key posts will go to technocrats approved by both Hamas and Fatah.

According to the reports, the agreement calls for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to be given full authority to negotiate with Israel on behalf of all Palestinians.

Qadura Fares, a leading member of Fatah involved in the negotiations behind Tuesday's meeting told Voice of Palestine radio that a new government will be committed to respecting all previous agreements between Israel and the Palestinians.

Fares says that also includes agreements between Palestinians and international organizations such as the United Nations and non-governmental organizations.

The Palestinian Authority has been under an international embargo since last year because of the Hamas refusal to recognize Israel and previous agreements between Israel and the Palestinians. U.S. and European Union officials say any new government will have to agree to recognize Israel if it wants to get aid restarted.

Hamas took control of the Authority last year after winning legislative elections.

Meanwhile, close aides to President Abbas say he will meet with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice later this week in a bid to revive Middle East Peace negotiations. Last week the international diplomatic "Quartet" on the Middle East made up of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations endorsed a U.S.-mediated meeting between Israeli and Palestinian leaders later this month.