Hamas leader heads to Cairo for Palestinian talks

Israeli soldiers kill four in deadly Gaza clashes


Khaled Meshaal, leader of the Islamist movement Hamas, was set to travel to Cairo on Monday for reconciliation talks with rival Fatah faction in a bid to revive efforts to restore Palestinian unity.

The Hamas delegation, which crossed into Egypt from Gaza earlier, includes former foreign minister Mahmud Zahar and is scheduled to hold talks with the head of Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, the main mediator in the Palestinian reconciliation efforts, Hamas official Fawzi Barhum said in Gaza City.

Tensions between Hamas, which controls besieged Gaza, and the Fatah movement of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas have risen and recent clashes in the West Bank left four policemen, four Hamas fighters and a civilian dead.

Palestinian reconciliation

The two factions have been at loggerheads since Hamas ousted forces loyal to Abbas from Gaza in a week of deadly street-fighting in June 2007.

A Fatah delegation discussed the reconciliation efforts with Egyptian intelligence chief Suleiman on Sunday.

Egypt, which hosted several rounds of talks between the rival factions, suggested a July 7 deadline for an agreement, a target that appears increasingly unlikely.

But Egypt insists that things can move forward, particularly after a speech by American President Barack Obama in Cairo on Thursday, in which he called for the creation of a Palestinian state.

Obama's speech "paves the way for the resumption of the political process and achieving peace in the region," a senior Egyptian official told MENA.

Palestinian reconciliation is seen as crucial to efforts to rebuild Gaza following the devastation wrought by Israel's 22-day assault that killed more than 1,400 Palestinians and destroyed more than 5,000 houses.

Four Hamas gunmen killed

Meanwhile, Israeli forces killed four Palestinian gunmen who tried to cross into Israel from Gaza, Hamas and Palestinian medical workers said.

The bodies of all four gunmen had explosives belts around them and two of the bodies were torn to shreds by explosions, the medics said after retrieving the remains.

The clash began when Palestinian gunmen, under cover of early morning fog, fired at an Israeli patrol near Karni crossing on the Israeli side of the border fence, residents and Hamas said.

A Hamas radio station said at least 12 Palestinian fighters, some on horseback, were wounded in the fighting near the Nahal Oz crossing with Israel east of Gaza City, they said.

An Israeli army spokesman said ground troops backed by a helicopter gunship engaged in firefight with fighters who had opened fire near the heavily-fortified frontier between Israel and the Hamas-ruled enclave.

Gunmen opened fire and detonated explosives against an Israeli force in the attack, according to Israeli military sources. No Israeli troops were reported to have been killed.

There was no immediate claim for the attack from any armed Palestinian group in Gaza.

It was one of the deadliest incidents since the end of Israel's massive offensive on Gaza.