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13 Jun, 2007 17:28

Fighting between the Palestinians intensifies

More than 60 people have been killed in the latest upsurge in violence between the rival Fatah and Hamas factions in Gaza. Hamas fighters have taken over control of much of the south of the area.

A deadly week in Gaza began on June 7, just two weeks after a ceasefire between the two warring factions was signed.

The fighting continued on Wednesday, as Hamas pounded Fatah security headquarters in Gaza city with mortars and grenades.

Hopes for stabilising a situation in the Middle East have been dealt a major blow after Fatah said it was withdrawing from the three-month-old Palestinian unity government.

“We haven't decided not to participate, but what we have indicated is that one of the steps we might take if the violence doesn't stop is not to take part in the government,” Azzam al-Ahmad, Palestinian Deputy Prime Minister, said.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared the violence was part of a Hamas-led coup attempt. Just hours before, Hamas fighters overran several Fatah strongholds including the headquarters of the Fatah-allied security forces in northern Gaza.

The Palestinian Prime Minister and Hamas member, Ismail Haniyeh, stressed that a state of emergency should be declared so that talks between the two factions could resume.

Meanwhile, the foreign ministers of Jordan and Egypt at the meeting in Cairo called for an immediate ceasefire and urged both sides to return to the negotiating table.

“There is a Palestinian responsibility. The Palestinians have to measure and understand that they are wasting all that they have achieved from struggle and effort in the last 20 years of their cause,” Ahmed Aboul, the Egypt's Foreign Minister, pointed out.

Abdel Ilah al-Khatib, the Jordan's Foreign Minister, added that “the main priority at this stage is to stop the Palestinian fighting so the Palestinians can face up to their challenges.”

In Brussels, Palestinian Information Minister Mustafa Barghouti urged the European Union to recognise the Palestinian unity government and resume direct financial aid payments, blaming the international embargo for the deteriorating situation in Gaza and the West Bank.

“Our aim is to encourage the European Union to deal directly with the national unity government to understand that this is our last resort if we don't want to see that the whole Palestinian authority would collapse. So our goal and aim is to try to convince them to stop this embargo,” Mr Barghouti said.

The rival Palestinian factions have been at odds since Hamas defeated Fatah in elections in January, ending four decades of Fatah rule. While the sides agreed to share power three months ago, it was an uneasy coalition, and its apparent failure has come as little surprise to many.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Ministry expressed its concern over the escalation of violence in the region and called for an immediate ceasefire.

According to the Ministry’s spokesman, Mikhail Kamynin, “Moscow is extremely concerned with the escalating violence in Gaza Strip and on the Palestinian territories as a whole. We believe the escalation of confrontation between Palestinians may lead to chaos and rising tensions in the Middle East. We call on all Palestinian authorities to cease fire and restore stability”.