STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
Palestinian officials have put each other under stress in recent months, but last night they signed an agreement. They agreed to share power. It happened after two days of talks in Islam's holiest city, Mecca, in Saudi Arabia. This is a plan to end a year-long power struggle between Fatah and the Islamist group Hamas. It's hoped a national unity government will meet the conditions to end international sanctions. Now, that part remains unclear.
But as NPR's Eric Westervelt reports, some Palestinians found cause for celebration.
(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE CELEBRATING)
ERIC WESTERVELT: Late into the night, Gaza City residents poured into the streets to celebrate the unity government deal signed in Mecca. Men waved yellow Fatah flags right alongside men waving big, green Hamas banners.
(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)
WESTERVELT: 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. Ahmed al-Shabaki(ph), a Hamas supporter, was euphoric at the prospect of an end to months of internal fighting.
(SOUNDBITE OF SHOUTING AND SIRENS)
AHMED AL: (Through translator) We are saying now, to all Arab and Palestinian people, that it's forbidden for us to spill Palestinian blood. We will point our bullets only at the Israeli enemy. We'll stop the internal clashes and unify ourselves.
WESTERVELT: 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, the Islamist group Hamas keeps its leader, Ismail Haniyah, as prime minister; holds onto important government portfolios; and maintains a plurality in the Cabinet. 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.
Thirty-two-year-old Mohamed Majoulawi(ph), of Gaza City, says he's skeptical the agreement will end inter-Palestinian fighting or the crippling international sanctions and isolation.
MOHAMED MAJOULAWI: (Through translator) I'm not optimistic. The internal fighting is based on a political dispute that's not really solved yet, and lifting the economic siege is now up to America, Israel and the international community which put this siege on us. I'm not hopeful.
WESTERVELT: 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. In Washington, a State Department spokesman made a similar comment, reasserting that all three conditions must be met.
The agreement was signed in Mecca overlooking the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine. In Gaza last night, Hamas official Ahmad Yusuf, a close political advisor to Hamas leader Haniyah, said Hamas has assurances that Saudi Arabia will, quote, "do their best to convince the Americans that this is the time to lift the embargo and the international isolation of the government." He also added that the Saudis have pledged $1 billion to the new government.
If the deal hardly assures an end to the boycott, it's also far from certain it will end the 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.
Abu Haran(ph) is a battle-hardened commander of the Abu Rish Brigades, a militant armed faction loyal to Fatah.
ABU HARAN: (Through translator) If the killers of Hamas who shot civilians are not delivered to the police and courts, this agreement won't be implemented, because with no law (unintelligible), the family rule is now what controls this country and our streets. So families will take their revenge. It's natural. And Hamas will claim it's Fatah, and it will start building all over again.
WESTERVELT: In 10 days' time, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hosts new peace talks 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.
Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Gaza City.
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