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Hamas and Fatah representatives on Sunday expressed hope that the upcoming summit in Saudi Arabia between Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal will end the fighting between the two parties and result in the formation of a PA unity government.
Meanwhile, a cease-fire announced between the two parties on Saturday appeared to be holding in the Gaza Strip as Fatah and Hamas militiamen refrained from street fighting.
However, PA security officials reported that some incidents of violence, including mutual kidnappings, continued. They said among those kidnapped was Ashraf Dahlan, a 20-year-old nephew of senior Fatah operative Muhammad Dahlan, a sworn enemy of Hamas.
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Fatah and Hamas representatives who met late Sunday agreed to withdraw all their gunmen from the streets and rooftops, deploy PA policemen in sensitive areas and release all those who were abducted. The agreement was announced in the presence of Egyptian mediators Burhan Hamad and Ahmed Abdel Khalek.
Abbas and Mashaal are scheduled to meet in Mecca on Tuesday at the invitation of King Abdullah bin Abdel Aziz. PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh will participate in the discussions along with Ghazi Hamad, Hamas's government spokesman; Osama Hamdan, Hamas's representative in Lebanon; and Ahmed Bahar, deputy speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council.
Abbas will be accompanied by former PA prime minister Ahmed Qurei and Fatah legislator Azzam al-Ahmed.
The summit will be the second of its kind in the past few weeks. At the previous summit between Abbas and Mashaal in Damascus, the two failed to resolve their differences over the formation of a unity government, triggering a new wave of violence in the Gaza Strip.
"We must not fail this time," Mashaal told reporters in Damascus on Sunday. "It is forbidden to shed Palestinian blood and there are limits that should not be trespassed. We belong to one people and share the same cause."
Mashaal urged Hamas and Fatah gunmen to halt the fighting and direct their guns against Israel.
"We must unite the Hamas and Fatah blood in the struggle against Israel as we did at the beginning of the intifada" he said. "We want political partnership with Fatah and we are not only optimistic, but also very serious about this, and that's why we are going to Mecca."
Issa al-Nashar, a senior Hamas official in the Gaza Strip, said he was very optimistic about the prospects of the summit.
"The two sides are very close to striking a deal on the unity government," he said. "They have resolved 96 percent of the sticking issues. The only dispute is over the identity of the deputy prime minister, who will be from Fatah."
Nabil Amr, a top Fatah official and adviser to Abbas, expressed hope that the summit would consolidate the latest cease-fire.
"A political agreement between the two sides will put an end to the bloody events in the Gaza Strip," he said. "Without such an agreement, the situation will continue to deteriorate."
Fatah spokesman Jamal Nazal said he was less optimistic.
"I'm not aware of any significant progress regarding the formation of a unity government," he said. "We were close to reaching such an agreement before the last cycle of violence. But today the unity government issue is still being regarded as a remote, if not impossible, mission."
Hamas's armed wing, Izaddin Kassam, issued a three-day ultimatum to the gunmen and security officers who stormed the Islamic University in Gaza City last Thursday to surrender or face the consequences of their actions.
"Anyone who surrenders before next Wednesday will not be harmed," said a statement issued by the group. "We want to give a chance to all those who were involved in this murderous scheme before it's too late."
Hamas has accused Abbas's security forces of attacking the university and setting many of its departments on fire. The attack came hours after Hamas gunmen seized a number of trucks that were allegedly carrying weapons to Abbas's Presidential Guard in the Gaza Strip.
In Ramallah, Fatah gunmen went on a rampage inside the offices of the Hamas-run Ministry for Prisoners Affairs and stole the personal computer of its minister, Wasfi Kabaha.â€¢
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