Suhaib Salem/Getty Images
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (left), Saudi King Abdullah and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal pose after talks in Mecca.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (left), Saudi King Abdullah and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal pose after talks in Mecca. Suhaib Salem/Getty Images
The rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas have signed a power-sharing agreement after urgent talks in Mecca, Islam's holiest city.
The deal is intended to stem a vicious, year-long power struggle that led to scores of deaths in the worst internal Palestinian violence ever in the Gaza Strip. But the accord isn't likely to go far enough to meet international demands and to end Western economic sanctions against the Palestinian government.
Still, celebrations of the "unity goverment" deal went on late into the night in Gaza City.
Men waved yellow Fatah flags right alongside men waving big green Hamas banners.
Just a few days ago, the two sides were pointing their AK 47s at each other. Last night the weapons were pointed into the sky for the obligatory celebratory gunfire.
In the last 13 months, Palestinian-on-Palestinian violence has killed more than 400 people in Gaza, according to tallies by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights and the Health ministry.
Under the unity deal, Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas remains as prime minister. Hamas holds on to key government portfolios and maintains a plurality in the Cabinet, but some ministries will go to Fatah.
Five key Cabinet posts — including the all-important Interior Ministry which ostensibly oversees security forces — will go to "independents." Under the power sharing plan Hamas agrees to "respect" previous agreements with Israel.
But it's not clear that goes far enough to meet the demands spelled out by the West that Hamas recognize Israel, abide by past agreements and renounce violence.
In a statement last night, Israeli government spokeswoman Miri Eisen said Israel expects the Palestinian government to agree to all three of the international conditions, but she declined to elaborate whether the unity agreement meets those requirements.
In Washington, a State Department spokesman made a similar comment re-asserting that all three conditions have to be met.
The agreement was signed in a hotel in Mecca overlooking the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine.
In Gaza last night, Hamas official Ahmed Yussif, a close political adviser to Hamas leader Haniyeh, said Hamas has assurances that Saudi leaders will "do their best to convince the Americans that this is the time to lift the embargo and the international isolation of the government."
He added that Saudis have pledged $1 billion to the new government.
It's far from certain the deal will end internal chaos. Eight previous ceasefires have collapsed. Sporadic street battles have raged for months, with the violence now deeply intertwined with family and clan rivalries.
Meanwhile, in ten days' time, U.S. Secretary of State Condeleezza Rice will attend new peace talks in Jerusalem between Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, who now shares power with a group the West lists as a terrorist organization.