GAZA, (Reuters) – Hamas policemen and forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas withdrew from Gaza’s streets on Wednesday as a fresh ceasefire aimed at halting a slide to civil war appeared to be holding.
Two fighters from Abbas’s Fatah who were wounded in a clash that coincided with the announcement of the Egyptian-mediated truce late on Tuesday died of their wounds, family members said.
That raised to 10 the number of Palestinians killed in Gaza since Abbas called on Saturday for early elections to try to break a political deadlock with the Hamas government and get crippling Western sanctions on its administration lifted.
Palestinian sources said they expected Abbas would hold a long-awaited meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in the coming days. Israeli officials were not immediately available to comment.
While such a meeting would be seen as a possible spur to reviving peace talks between Israel and the moderate Abbas, Olmert has said the Palestinians could expect little until a soldier held captive in Gaza since June was freed.
Israel refuses to deal with the Hamas Islamist movement, which seeks formally seeks the Jewish state’s destruction.
Palestinian security sources said there had been no incidents overnight in Gaza, where days of internal fighting has drawn increasing concern from Arab and Western countries.
Fatah accused Hamas of violating the latest truce in the wake of the deaths of its two gunmen around dawn on Wednesday. “Unless Hamas stops its violations, the second agreement … could be in danger,” said Fatah spokesman, Tawfiq Abu Khoussa.
Hamas said its forces were returning fire in the incident, adding it was committed to the second ceasefire. A previous truce broke down within hours.
A senior aide to Abbas said the president planned to issue a decree next week to lay the legal foundations for the fresh parliamentary and presidential elections, which Hamas has described as a “coup” and unconstitutional. Hamas has said it would boycott any polls. No date has been announced.
Despite throwing down the gauntlet to Hamas, Abbas has left the door open for the formation of a Fatah-Hamas coalition with a “technocrat” cabinet that could satisfy the West.
Hamas and Fatah tried for months to form a unity government to end a power struggle, but talks foundered. Hamas trounced Fatah in January elections.
The Islamists have struggled to govern since taking office in March under the weight of sanctions imposed over its refusal to recognise Israel and renounce violence.