5 Palestinians Killed, 37 Hurt in Clashes Between Gaza Families

Hamas military leader, 78-year-old passerby among dead; 4 people remain in critical condition.

Five Palestinians were killed and 15 wounded in shootings late Friday and early Saturday in the southern Gaza Strip town of Khan Younis, in clashes between families supporting rival parties Hamas and Fatah.

The clashes began shortly before midnight Friday between the Kawara and al-Ghalben clans, after Mohammed Ghelban, a 28-year-old commander from Hamas' military wing, was killed in a drive-by shooting outside of his home.

Assailants dragged Ghelban from his car and shot and killed him in front of his family, a security official said. It was not immediately clear what prompted the attack.

A member of the rival clan, 22-year-old Hazem Karouah, 22, was killed several hours later, as was 75-year-old Ismail Sabah, who was caught in the line of fire. Later Saturday, 27-year-old Ghada Karouah died of gunshot wounds.

Thirty-seven people were wounded, including four who were in critical condition, hospital officials said.

The two factions did not openly blame each other. However, government spokesman Ghazi Hamad of Hamas said some groups were trying to revive the internal conflict through acts of aggression.

Talal Okal, a Palestinian commentator, said that the family feuds are part of the rubble left over from the fighting. However, he said he expected Hamas and Fatah to try to suppress revenge attacks in order not the endanger the power-sharing agreement.

This weekend's violence is the most severe to hit the Strip since the signing of the Mecca agreement two weeks ago establishing a unity government composed of Fatah and Hamas.

At least 130 people died in Hamas-Fatah fighting before the two sides signed a power-sharing agreement earlier this month. The pact is widely seen in Palestinian territories as the only way to avert civil war.

However, Gaza remains volatile because families of some of those killed still seek revenge.

In keeping with efforts to maintain the fragile calm, the two factions did not openly blame each other. But in a statement, Hamas' military wing accused suspect figures hiding behind the cover of Karouah family of executing Ghelban.

The statement called on the Karouah family to stop protecting the killers and said Hamas fighters reserved the right to punish the killer.

Meanwhile, armed Palestinians attacked the house of Suleiman Khader in Khan Younis, who holds the rank of colonel in the Palestinian security forces.

The door of his house was blown off and two inhabitants of the house were wounded. The background to the incident remains unclear.