Bid to end fighting by Hamas and Fatah

Their leaders hold talks today hosted by the Saudi king.

Published February 7, 2007

MECCA, Saudi Arabia - Leaders of the two main Palestinian parties, Hamas and Fatah, on Tuesday began a two-day Saudi-brokered effort to agree on a unity government that could end a wave of violence in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and resume relations with donor countries.

The Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, and two Hamas leaders - Ismail Haniyeh, the Palestinian prime minister, and Khaled Mashaal, the Damascus-based political leader - met separately with King Abdullah, Saudi officials said.

All of the leaders are expected to perform the pilgrimage at the Grand Mosque in Mecca and meet with other Saudi officials and mediators before deliberations begin in earnest today.

The meeting is intended to yield a government that would include members of both parties and be acceptable to Western governments so that they resume relations with and aid to the Palestinians and restart peace negotiations with the Israelis, which have been stalled since 2003.

The United States and the European Union consider Hamas, which has carried out numerous attacks against Israeli civilians and opposes Israel's existence, to be a terrorist organization. They cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority last spring after Hamas took power as a result of defeating Fatah in elections held in January of last year.

Previous efforts to stem the current bloodshed between the two Palestinian factions and find common ground have yielded only temporary cease-fires.