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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 February 2007, 22:30 GMT
Tense calm follows Gaza fighting
Fatah fighters in Gaza City
Fighters remain on the streets despite orders to withdraw
A ceasefire between rival Palestinian factions appears to be taking hold in the Gaza Strip after about 23 people died during days of in-fighting.

There have been no major clashes since Saturday, when Fatah and Hamas renewed a truce which had twice broken down.

The two sides have been locked in a bitter power struggle since Hamas won elections in January 2006.

But Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal said the factions had to resolve their differences peacefully.

He was speaking to journalists in the Syrian capital Damascus ahead of a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the head of Fatah, on Tuesday in Saudi Arabia.

"The situation does not afford failure," Mr Meshaal, who lives in Syria, said about the talks on forming a national unity government with Mr Abbas.

"I say to Abu Mazen [Mr Abbas]: we have no option but to succeed."

This will be the second meeting between the two leaders since a summit in Damascus on 21 January ended without a breakthrough.

Checkpoints

The BBC's Alan Johnston in Gaza says for now, at least, it does seem that Hamas and Fatah have acted to restrain their forces.

Map

The centre of Gaza City remains tense, he says, and the two sides have not abandoned all the positions that they took up during the fighting.

But the armed presence on the streets is now much reduced, and throughout Gaza there have been no reports of serious clashes.

The fighting, which erupted on a large scale last month, has brought Gaza to a virtual standstill.

Residents began venturing out for the first time in days on Sunday, to find militants manning checkpoints and stores remaining closed despite the renewed truce, Reuters news agency reported.

"We pray to God that the fighting, which only served Israel, will stop once and for all," Gaza resident Abu Mohammad said, standing outside his home.

Mortar fire

Senior Hamas and Fatah officials agreed to restore the ceasefire, pull gunmen off the streets and remove ad hoc checkpoints which had sprung up.

But fighting continued through the night and into the early hours of Sunday.

Mortar bombs exploded near Mr Abbas' residence, while gunmen continued to exchange fire.

Two members of Mr Abbas' presidential guard died on Sunday from wounds sustained in earlier fighting, hospital sources said.




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