Kaddoumi: Factions vow to end infighting

After aggravated infighting in the Gaza Strip, leaders of the Palestinian factions including rivals Fatah and Hamas pledged on Tuesday to refrain from

After aggravated infighting in the Gaza Strip, leaders of the Palestinian factions including rivals Fatah and Hamas pledged on Tuesday to refrain from violence in settling Palestinian problems during a meeting in Damascus. Fatah leader Farouk Kaddoumi said the exiled leaders of Palestinian groups agreed that dialogue should be the only way to solve their disputes, Reuters reported. According to Kaddoumi, the battling factions' leaders concurred to "call all Palestinian powers and factions to ban the use of weapons to solve internal differences". The leaders also agreed to "refrain from all forms political and media provocations that can harm the interests of our people and their national unity," Kaddoumi said. Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, who spoke to reporters after the meeting, implicitly accused the United States and Israel of responsibility for last week's clashes between Hamas activists and Palestinian security forces in the Gaza Strip and stoutly rejected demands that the organization disarm. "As long as our land is occupied, the Palestinian people and their factions have the right to jointly resist and play a political role," Mashaal said, after attending a meeting of leaders of Damascus-based radical Palestinian factions opposed to the PLO's peace accords with Israel. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice backed Israel's demands last week that the terrorist organization disarm when she said that Hamas cannot participate in Palestinian politics if it remains armed. "You cannot simultaneously keep an option on politics and an option on violence," she said. During the Damascus meeting, the Palestinian faction leaders rejected internal fighting and called for national unity "and solving differences through dialogue to enable the Palestinians to continue the battle of liberating Gaza and the rest of occupied Palestinian lands," Mashaal told reporters. Referring to the Gaza clashes, Mashaal said, "There is foreign pressure and incitement known to everyone." Although he did not elaborate, Mashaal was apparently alluding to the United States and Israel. In the worst fighting between Hamas and Palestinian police in nearly a decade, three people were killed last Sunday, including the deputy police chief in the Shati refugee camp near Gaza City, who was shot in the head after he and his men ran out of bullets during a Hamas assault on their station. The violence underscored the difficulties Abbas and his ill-equipped security forces face in trying to take control of unruly Gaza. Since Israel's pullout from the coastal territory last month, Hamas has become increasingly brazen in challenging Abbas. In a statement issued after the Damascus meeting Hamas leaders stressed "the Palestinian right of resistance until all legitimate rights are achieved" and urged all Palestinian factions to avoid armed fighting in solving internal differences. Mashaal warned that "no one has the right to interfere in internal Palestinian affairs even if it was the US administration."