Internal Palestinian Fighting Threatens to Derail Government

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called on an end to the violence during a visit to the Middle East. “Innocent Palestinians are caught in this violence and in this crossfire, and we call on all parties to stop,” she told reporters, according to The Washington Post.

Clashes between the Islamist group Hamas, in control of the Palestinian government, and the Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have left 12 dead and more than 100 wounded in the worst internal fighting since the Palestinian Authority was created in 1994, Reuters reported.

Abbas is working to form a unity government but faces internal strife between Hamas and Fatah, primarily over the recognition of Israel.

Rice’s five-day visit to the region will explore whether Abbas’ initiative has any chance of success. Her first stop encompassed talks with Saudi leaders, including King Abdullah and Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal.

Saud called on the United States to take the initiative and “restart” the deadlocked peace process, saying it was key to ending the conflict, reported Bloomberg News.

The peace plan, known as the road map, has been put on hold because of the impasse between Israel and the Palestinians.

Part of the plan was Israel’s withdrawal from the Palestinian territories of the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank, which began under Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in August 2005.

Sharon suffered a stroke in January, but his successor Ehud Olmert has said he would continue the withdrawal. Palestinians contend that Israel is controlling the pullback so that it can retain key sections of the West Bank.

Rice’s next stop is Cairo, Egypt, to meet with the six foreign ministers of Egypt, Jordan, and the Gulf Cooperation Council. She also plans to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories.

The State Department says her goal is to encourage Arab leaders to quell a growing militant movement in the region.