GAZA CITY (AFP) – A fragile ceasefire aimed at halting a surge of fighting between rival Palestinian factions held in the Gaza Strip for a second day after president Mahmud Abbas urged restraint on all sides.
No clashes between Abbas’s Fatah party and the ruling Hamas movement have been reported since early Wednesday, when a four-hour gunbattle in southern Gaza City killed two Fatah loyalists hours after a new truce went into effect.
Gaza City residents went about their daily routine, though armed gunmen, some of them masked, continued to patrol the streets.
At a press conference in Ramallah late Wednesday, Abbas pleaded for an end to factional fighting in the streets.
“I call on Palestinians from all political factions to show responsibility and restraint,” Abbas said.
“I am confident that they all want to see security restored and the law respected so that we can realize our goals of liberation and independence.”
The Palestinian leader said that he was “not opposed to a new round of dialogue” on forming a government of national unity with Hamas, despite his call on Saturday for early elections.
The call for new polls was roundly rejected by Hamas and sparked four days of gunbattles between supporters of the ruling Islamists and Abbas’s Fatah faction in Gaza, clashes that killed 13 people and wounded dozens of others.
After appealing for calm to end one of the worst crises in the Palestinian territories in decades, both Abbas and prime minister Ismail Haniya of Hamas announced a new ceasefire late Tuesday.
A previous truce between the factions agreed late Sunday held for barely 24 hours, with six people killed in factional fighting in Gaza on Tuesday alone.
Abbas said the new truce had been hammered out after contacts with “friendly countries and friendly leaders,” such as Jordan’s King Abdullah II.
Officials in Amman had announced the king had phoned Abbas and offered to host a meeting between himself and the Hamas premier to defuse the crisis.
Abbas said he was prepared to “respond favorably” to the invitation. He was due to travel to Jordan on Sunday.
“Talks will focus on efforts to form a Palestinian national unity government and president Abbas’s call for early elections,” as well as attempts to revive peace talks with Israel, Palestinian ambassador Attalah Khairy told AFP.
The deadly Palestinian clashes, which have raised fears of civil war, erupted after Abbas announced on Saturday his intention to call early presidential and parliamentary elections as a way to resolve a months-long standoff with the ruling Islamists.
In a televised address Tuesday, Haniya once again rejected the election plan despite backing the ceasefire, and said he was still open to forming a coalition with Fatah.
Previous months-long talks between the two factions collapsed over Hamas’s refusal to bend to the West’s demands to recognize Israel, renounce violence and agree to past peace deals.
Haniya’s government has been boycotted by Israel and the West since it took office in March after a shock election win over Abbas’s long-dominant Fatah, plunging the Palestinian territories into their worst ever financial crisis.
Al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri weighed into the crisis in a new video aired Wednesday in which he said only jihad, not elections, could bring about the liberation of occupied Palestinian territory.
Amid the intra-Palestinian violence, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert paid a surprise visit to Jordan on Tuesday, after visiting British Prime Minister Tony Blair called for an initiative to jumpstart the dormant peace process.