Egypt and Palestinians warn of 'explosive situation' in Gaza

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CAIRO: Egypt and the Palestinians warned on Saturday of the explosive situation in the impoverished Palestinian territories, which are struggling against a devastating economic and political blockade.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas was in Cairo for talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on how to lift the aid boycott and end the deadly violence in the Gaza Strip.

The two discussed the situation on the Palestinian front and the explosive security situation in the Gaza Strip, the official Mena news agency said, after four Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire in the territory.

Troops shot dead three members of the armed wing of the Islamist Hamas and wounded a fourth, a Palestinian medical source and the Israeli army said.

Another Palestinian, a farmer, was killed by Israeli tank fire in the southern Gaza Strip, a security official said. That brought to 5,674 the number of people killed since the intifada erupted in 2000, most of them Palestinians.

Last week Israeli raids killed nine Palestinians, prompting Hamas s armed wing, the Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades, on Tuesday to declare a five-month truce over.

But Abbas vowed on Saturday to restore order, saying the only way to stop this aggression is to return to a complete calm in Gaza, then in the West Bank, Mena reported.

This had been agreed, but unfortunately it was violated by Israel and also by the Palestinian side, leading to this escalation, Abbas said.

On Friday, he met exiled Hamas political chief Khaled Meshaal in Cairo for a rare meeting, their first since the Palestinian unity government took office in March.

Speaking after talks with Arab League Secretary General Amr Mussa, Meshaal warned of the dangers of the economic and political blockade continuing.

The Palestinian people will not be patient under this pressure and they have several options before them if need be, he told reporters.

The Palestinian unity government has been in place for almost two months and the sanctions remain the main issue for the Palestinians, after they had large hopes following the formation of the government, Meshaal said.

Meshaal urged Arabs and Muslims to support the Palestinian people because the Palestinian situation is on the verge of exploding. The coalition, uniting Fatah and Hamas for the first time, took office after Abbas and Meshaal reached a power-sharing accord in Saudi Arabia in February.

That deal sought to end months of factional fighting between the two that killed scores of people after Hamas won Palestinian legislative elections in January 2006.

The new government has since battled to end the diplomatic and economic boycott imposed by the West on the previous Hamas-led government for its refusal to recognize Israel and abide by past Israeli-Palestinian agreements. Abbas on Saturday also briefed Mubarak on his latest European tour aimed at convincing the European Union to lift the blockade.

It is happening gradually, and during my tour I didn t sense any complications from the European countries with regards to lifting the financial and political sanctions, Abbas said.

As a result of his trip, it was agreed that Prime Minister Ismail Haniya of Hamas will visit Switzerland in May, marking the first official trip to Europe by the Islamist premier.

However, Bern on Saturday refused to confirm the trip, with spokesman Lars Knuchel saying the foreign ministry has not received an official request for such a visit. Hamas is classified as a terrorist organization by the United States and by the European Union, of which Switzerland is not a member. Bern has never cut its ties with the Palestinian authorities and has said it is ready to talk with all members of the new government. Former Swiss president Moritz Leuenberger said last year that the EU had been too hasty in deciding to suspend aid to the Palestinian government, saying it would have been wiser to judge Hamas by its actions.

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