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Feuding Palestinian Factions Sign Government Deal

February 8, 2007 at 2:17 PM EST
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INIGO GILMORE, ITV News Special Correspondent: Two brothers, from two opposing factions, both recently injured in the same battle. Tahseen al-Otel on the left is from Hamas; his sibling, Hamada, nursing an eye wound, from Fatah.

They say they’ll never point guns at each other, but sensibly they live on separate floors of the family house. They’re able to laugh about it now, but after the bloody chaos of recent days, these two, more than most, are desperate to see the talks in Mecca bring about some lasting calm.

“We need to clean the streets of weapons,” says Hamada, “and sit down and make an agreement between the two sides.”

Out on the streets, though, no sign of anyone relinquishing those weapons anytime soon. At this busy Gaza intersection, the tension is unmistakable. Some ominous obstacles have been erected, ready in the event that talks in Mecca fall apart.

National security police loyal to President Abbas’ Fatah faction are not happy being filmed. We’re ordered to leave.

“This is a closed military zone,” the soldier tells us. It’s a term usually used by the Israeli military. Nearby, Hamas gunmen, from their executive force, are more willing to flaunt their weapons, fingers, of course, never far from the trigger.

Palestinian against Palestinian

INIGO GILMORE: There's a strong mood of foreboding on the streets of Gaza here today. Palestinians have been traumatized by recent events. The feelings of revenge and grief, usually directed against Israelis, have been directed against each other.

No wonder they're looking toward Mecca and a way out. They dare not contemplate the alternative.

Over in the holy city of Mecca, it was all smiles for the cameras. The hope is that a lasting cease-fire can pave the way for a unity government and end the crippling blockade of Gaza.

For the Saudis, too, there's a lot riding on these talks: a sign that they want to flex their muscles in the region, amid concerns about the growing power of Iran, now the leading financial supporter of Hamas.

With 60 dead in 10 days, Palestinians no longer just fear Israel, but each other. This was the scene days ago in Gaza, when a 6-year-old boy, killed by a stray bullet, was carried through the streets to a morgue by a friend of the child's father.

We found the boy's father, Nahid, at his home in Gaza, where the family are still trying to come to terms with the loss of a second son in two months. Hamza, their older son, was recently killed by Israeli soldiers.

NAHID HABOUSH, Father of Boy Killed in Gunfight (through translator): When the Israelis killed my older son, it was very painful for me, but I understand the logic that this is our enemy and the Israelis can kill you easily. But when a Palestinian kills a Palestinian, when a Muslim kills a Muslim, this is haram. It's forbidden.

Bringing the factions together

INIGO GILMORE: Across town, a politician from another faction has been trying to bring the warring parties together.

SALEH ZAIDAN, Palestinian Liberation Organization (through translator): Take one example that explains why we're having this trouble. The interior minister is from Hamas, but the three security forces under him are loyal to Fatah, and they don't follow his commands.

If the talks in Mecca are to bring a real breakthrough and ensure the cease-fire holds, they need to resolve how their competing power structures can work together. We want one authority that includes all the factions.

INIGO GILMORE: And that's what the international community wants, too, but a unity government may not be enough to end the blockade, as there's still the tricky issue of a demand that Hamas recognize Israel.

JIM LEHRER: Late today, the two Palestinian factions signed a power-sharing agreement.