By Nidal al-Mughrabi
GAZA (Reuters) – Feuding Palestinian factions pledged on Friday to take steps to end internal violence that has deepened a political crisis and stirred fears of civil war.
Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for the governing Hamas Islamist movement in Gaza, said security officials from neighboring Egypt had brokered overnight talks in the coastal strip with President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction.
"These efforts have been crowned by an agreement between Hamas and Fatah to stop tensions between the two sides and to bring the security situation under control," Barhoum said.
The deal came just days after Abbas said he had to make a decision soon on the future of the Hamas government.
Abbas has suggested he might sack the administration after efforts to form a unity cabinet foundered over Hamas’s refusal to soften its stance toward Israel.
Palestinians had hoped a unity government would lead to a lifting of crippling Western sanctions that were imposed on Hamas when it took office in March for refusing to recognize Israel and renounce violence.
Hamas is sworn to destroy the Jewish state.
The Gaza meeting was the first high-profile gathering in weeks between the two dominant Palestinian factions, whose power struggle sparked clashes this month that have killed 19 people.
Fatah spokesman Tawfiq Abu Khoussa said the two groups endorsed dialogue as the only way to bridge their differences.
"The agreement aimed at resolving internal violence and I hope it will be a serious start to remove tensions between the two movements," Abu Khoussa told Reuters.
Previous deals this year between Hamas and Fatah to end internal clashes have quickly broken down.
Barhoum said a joint trouble-shooting office manned by members of both factions would be set up to resolve issues that may spill over into violence.
Officials said it could be set up as early as Friday.
Barhoum added the two sides agreed to end news conferences in which each faction accuses the other of stoking tensions.
The internal fighting has been the worst since the Palestinian Authority was created in 1994 under interim peace deals with Israel.
Hamas took power after scoring a surprise win over Fatah in parliamentary elections in January.
On Thursday, Abbas said the Palestinian government had to be "committed to Arab and international law in order to lift the siege imposed on our people and to ease their suffering".
Abbas has not explicitly identified his options on dealing with the government but his aides have said he might call fresh elections, appoint an emergency cabinet or hold a referendum to let the Palestinian people decide what to do.
Hamas has said it would consider any referendum a "coup".
A senior Abbas aide told Reuters on Thursday the president was expected to make his decision several days after the Eid al-Fitr holiday, which marks the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. Eid this year falls around October 23.
Fatah says Abbas has the right to call early elections or hold a referendum. Hamas disputes this.