JERUSALEM - King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia urged the rival Palestinian factions yesterday to hold emergency talks in the holy city of Mecca, the latest bid to halt some of the worst internal fighting in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
As the two main factions, Hamas and Fatah, engaged in a fourth straight day of fighting in Gaza, leaders from both groups said they would take up the invitation by the Saudi monarch, though no date was set.
"I call on my brothers, the Palestinian people, represented by their leaders, to put an immediate end to this tragedy and to abide by righteousness," Abdullah said in an announcement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.
Saudi Arabia does not have a tradition of such direct involvement in Palestinian affairs. But as one of the most important figures in the Arab world, the king, by his decision to hold the talks in Mecca, could increase the pressure on Palestinian leaders to find a compromise.
But efforts by other Arab states have failed to stop the bloodshed. Egypt has been acting as a go-between for months, and Syria organized talks earlier this month between Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president and leader of Fatah, and Khaled Mashaal, the political leader in exile of Hamas. No breakthrough has been achieved.
The feud between the factions has grown increasingly bitter since Hamas won parliamentary elections a year ago, unseating Fatah. Hamas controls the cabinet and the parliament, but as president Abbas has a number of powers, and many members of the security forces remain loyal to Fatah.
In Gaza yesterday, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas made a renewed plea to halt the fighting but to no avail.
"We call on all the Palestinian people to protect national unity, to make the language of dialogue and reason prevail, to withdraw weapons from the streets," he told an emergency session of the Palestinian cabinet in Gaza City.
Gunmen from the two sides exchanged fire throughout the day in several Gaza City neighborhoods, prompting residents in some of the hardest-hit areas to flee to the homes of relatives in less volatile areas.
A bomb exploded outside the front door of a house belonging to a bodyguard for Mohammed Dahlan, a senior Fatah figure and an ally of Abbas. No one was hurt in the blast.
Also, Fatah blamed Hamas for mortar and anti-tank rounds that were fired at the police headquarters in Gaza City, which is controlled by Fatah.
Many shops were closed, and the streets were largely empty after the factions put up concrete barriers to block some roads. Hamas and Fatah said members had been abducted by the other side, a tactic that has become common, though many of those seized are later released unharmed.
The latest clashes have killed more than 20 and wounded dozens since erupting on Thursday. The most recent victims included a 12-year-old boy fatally shot late Saturday, three Hamas fighters killed yesterday, and a Fatah fighter who died of injuries sustained previously, Palestinian hospital officials said.
While Israel supports Abbas and refuses to deal with Hamas, the Israeli government has sought to avoid direct involvement in internal Palestinian fighting. But some Israeli politicians are warning that the Palestinian infighting could create problems for Israel.
"We cannot allow anarchy such as this, because in the end what will come out of this could act as a boomerang on us," Zeev Boim, a cabinet minister, told Israel radio.
The Israeli government yesterday approved the appointment of the country's first Muslim cabinet member, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office said.
The appointment of Raleb Majadele as a minister without portfolio is expected to go before the Knesset for final confirmation today.
Majadele, a parliamentary backbencher, says his appointment is meant to give representation to Israel's Arabs, who make up about 20 percent of the country's 6.4 million citizens. He has predicted that in the future, every Israeli government will be obliged to include an Arab minister.
Arabs lag behind Israel's Jewish population in income, education and standard of living and have long lacked representation in government commensurate with their numbers. Israel's 120-seat Knesset includes 13 Arab members.
- Associated Press