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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 December 2006, 21:21 GMT
Palestinian groups call new truce
An armed member of Hamas in Gaza
Gaza has suffered during the latest violence
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has announced a new ceasefire deal between his Fatah faction and the Hamas group that aims to stop fighting in Gaza.

The move comes after a week of escalating violence which has brought the territory to a standstill.

News of the breakthrough followed a day of street battles in which at least five people were killed and more hurt.

Schools were closed after five children were among the injured. A truce agreed on Sunday failed within 24 hours.

Mr Abbas told reporters in the West Bank city of Ramallah that the latest ceasefire would come into effect at 2300 local time (2100 GMT).

"We hope all will abide by this agreement," he said.

Mr Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, of Hamas, have been invited to Jordan by King Abdullah for talks.

King Abdullah said his country would do all it could "to help the Palestinians overcome their differences".

Abbas and US blamed

In a televised address in Gaza City on Tuesday, Mr Haniya said Palestinians would "remain united" in the face of the Israeli occupation.

Both sides used to fight the Israelis together. Now they are directing their weapons toward each other
Suleiman Tuman
Palestinian shopkeeper

"The smallest drop of Palestinian blood is dear to us and it should not be spilled except to defend our land. We are all aboard the same boat," he said.

On Saturday, Mr Abbas said he would call early elections, in a bid to end the deadlock following the collapse of talks on forming a national unity government.

On Tuesday, Mr Haniya repeated his opposition to the president's move, on the grounds it was "unconstitutional".

He said he blamed Mr Abbas, and the US government in particular, for undermining efforts to form a unity government.

Mr Haniya also reiterated an appeal for a long-term truce with Israel and the formation of a temporary Palestinian state alongside the Jewish state.

In Tuesday's violence:

  • An attempt to take an injured Fatah militant to a Gaza hospital sparked a battle between Fatah intelligence officers and Hamas militiamen; one Hamas fighter was killed and several injured
  • There was a tense stand-off between Hamas militants and forces loyal to Mr Abbas at the headquarters of the pro-Fatah intelligence service near Gaza City
  • A convoy of pro-Fatah militants was ambushed in Gaza City; two Fatah militants were killed and nine bystanders injured, including five children, medical sources said

Gaza shopkeeper Suleiman Tuman, who witnessed some of the violence, told the Associated Press news agency: "I've been praying to God that this is going to end.

"Both sides used to fight the Israelis together. Now they are directing their weapons toward each other."

Factional rivalry

While Fatah, through Mr Abbas, controls the presidency, Hamas, which won elections in January, runs the government.

9 Dec - Mr Abbas suggests early polls; Hamas denounces the idea
11 Dec - Three sons of a Fatah security chief are shot dead on their way to school
14 Dec - Hamas PM Ismail Haniya's convoy comes under fire as he returns from Egypt, killing a bodyguard; Hamas blames Fatah
16 Dec - Mr Abbas says he will call early elections; Hamas calls the move a "coup"
17 Dec - A truce is called after street battles between Hamas and Fatah, but violence continues

Fighting between the factions has paralysed the Hamas administration, which has also been crippled by an international embargo against it.

Hamas refuses to renounce violence or recognise Israel - a crucial demand of the international community.

Fatah believes that ending attacks on Israel is the key to forcing the Jewish state into negotiations on an independent Palestinian statehood.

Increased poverty and months of Israeli operations have polarised Palestinian factional rivalry further, correspondents say.

Mahmoud Abbas announces the ceasefire

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