World and Nation

Palestinian Factions Agree To Creation of National Unity Gov’t

The main rival Palestinian factions agreed late Thursday to form a government of national unity aimed at ending a wave of violence between them and an international boycott.

The agreement, signed here in Islam’s holiest city under Saudi auspices, appeared likely to end, at least for now, weeks of fighting that has ravaged the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Still, it seemed to stop short of meeting the demands of the international community for resuming relations and support for the Palestinian Authority.

The accord, signed by Khaled Meshal of the militant group Hamas and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president and leader of Fatah, Hamas’ main rival, is the first time that the two parties have agreed to share authority. It sets out principles for a coalition government, like the distribution of ministerial portfolios, but leaves many of the details for later.

Israel and international powers have said that they would lift their boycott of the Palestinian government imposed after the electoral victory by Hamas a year ago only if it agreed to three conditions: recognize Israel, renounce violence against Israel and abide by previous agreements between Israel and the Palestinians.

The Mecca accord addresses only the last of those and does so rather imprecisely, promising “respect” for previous agreements between the Palestinians and Israel.

In Washington, a State Department spokesman, Tom Casey, said, “The international community has made it clear that in order to be able to have a broader relationship with the Palestinian Authority government, that those principles are going to have to be met.” He added that officials were still studying the accord.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will meet with Abbas and Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert, on Monday in Jerusalem to work on a broader peace initiative.

In Mecca, Abbas read out a statement during the signing ceremony where he re-appointed Ismail Haniya as prime minister and called on the new government to abide by “international law” and agreements signed by the Palestine Liberation Organization. This appeared aimed at appeasing concerns of the international community.

The British foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, called the agreement “interesting” but said it would require further study.

In the streets of Gaza, Palestinians broke out in celebration as the agreement was being announced, with members of Hamas and Fatah firing into the air.

Hamas officials in Mecca bristled at the insistence of accepting Israel, insisting that any concessions they offer will not be enough.

“I wonder why the issue of recognizing Israel is the key to everything?” Ghazi Hamad, spokesman for the Hamas government, said earlier Thursday. “We are interested to end the siege but not at any cost.”

He added: “We try to balance between our Palestinian national constraints and our opening up to the international community. Israel is not ready to deal with any Palestinian side unless the Palestinians deal with the Israeli conditions.”