At least 10 people were killed and dozens wounded as Hamas captured the headquarters of the Fatah-allied security forces in northern Gaza on Tuesday evening, seizing a key prize in the bloody battle for control of the Gaza Strip.
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah and Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh both made calls for restraint Tuesday, but they went largely unheeded. Fatah announced Tuesday night that it was suspending its participation in the Palestinian unity government until the fighting stopped.
A further 15 Palestinians were killed in other clashes in the Strip on Tuesday, including six Hamas men, bringing the day's death toll to 25. Since the latest round of violence broke out Monday, 36 Palestinians have been killed.
About 200 Hamas gunmen surrounded the Fatah compound in northern Gaza, where some 500 Fatah fighters were holed up. Hamas fired mortars and rocket-propelled grenades at the building.
A Fatah man who survived the assault on the security compound said the movement's forces were outgunned and that reinforcements never arrived.
"We were pounded with mortar, mortar, mortar," said the gunman, who only gave his first name, Amjad. "They had no mercy. It was boom, boom. They had rockets that could reach almost half of the compound."
"They are attacking from all sides," said one of the officers, Khaled Awad, during the assault.
Palestinian security officials said Tuesday afternoon that Hamas had seized three small Fatah positions in the southern town of Khan Yunis, but that Fatah remained in control of the local security headquarters. The town's streets were empty as people huddled indoors for shelter.
But forces loyal to Abbas were ordered Tuesday evening to defend their positions in Gaza, and counter a "coup" by Hamas.
"Advance, our forces! Confront the seekers of the coup. Defend your dignity and your military honour. Defend the security of your people," the command of Abbas' National Security Forces said in a statement issued in Gaza.
The statement giving the order described Hamas as a "bloody party which is launching a coup against the president and against the authority and national unity government."
The fighting at the northern compound was preceded Tuesday afternoon by Hamas attacks on other installations belonging to forces loyal to Abbas. The group seized a number of smaller positions and laid seige to others.
Hamas had demanded that Fatah forces abandon their positions, threatening to attack those who remained in their posts. Fatah sources said Tuesday afternoon that they believed Hamas was trying to achieve a decisive victory in the Gaza Strip.
Meanwhile, Hamas' Al-Aqsa TV and radio stations came under fire from Fatah forces Tuesday, employees said. The TV station was surrounded by security forces allied with Fatah, said station employee Mohammed Abu Bilal.
Security officials said they received orders to stop the broadcasts of the station. Shortly after the attack, the station started playing pro-Fatah songs, a sign that the security forces had taken control of the broadcast.
But later, the television station broadcast pictures of what it said was a thwarted attack, along with pictures Hamas gunmen standing around captured security vehicles.
"Al-Aqsa is still shining," the radio station said.
The fighting also targeted senior officials from both sides. A deputy cabinet minister from Hamas was abducted in Ramallah, sparking fears that the fighting could spill over into the West Bank. Late Tuesday evening, Fatah said it had wounded four Hamas gunmen during a shootout in the West Bank city of Nablus.
Fatah's military wing, the Al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigades, threatened for its part to expand the fighting to the West Bank by announcing it would kill Hamas officials there unless the organization ceased its attacks.
In Gaza, former Palestinian foreign minister Nabil Shaath of Fatah said Hamas gunmen ransacked his home Tuesday afternoon, and shot one of his bodyguards in the leg.
Shaath, speaking to the media by telephone, appeared shaken but said no one in his family had been hurt. He said the attackers stole many items from his home in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahia.
Hamas seizes control of hospitalsOn Tuesday morning, Hamas gunmen seized the European Hospital in Khan Yunis, making it the third medical center to come under the group's control in two days. Gunmen traded fire at the institution.
Hamas then warned over a mosque loudspeaker that it would attack the headquarters of the Preventive Security Service in Gaza City, which is loyal to Fatah.
"The warning which we have given you to surrender has ended, and we will attack this position of Zionist collaborators," the warning said.
In Khan Yunis, Hamas controlled the roof of hospital and Fatah security forces took up positions nearby. The two sides traded fire. About 15 children attending a kindergarten in the compound were rushed into the main building, hospital officials said.
Haniyeh's house targetedOn Tuesday morning, gunmen attacked Haniyeh's home in a refugee camp near Gaza City, for the second time in as many days.
Hamas branded the assault with a rocket-propelled grenade an assassination attempt. Haniyeh and his family were in the house, but unhurt.
Describing the attack, Haniyeh's son, Abdel Salam, said an RPG hit the side of the house in the Shati refugee camp, damaging it, while the family was inside. No one was hurt, he said.
In other violence Tuesday morning, Hamas said Fatah gunmen kidnapped a member of the Hamas military wing and executed him in the street. The dead man was identified as a cousin of Abdel Aziz Rantisi, a Hamas leader assassinated by Israel in 2004.
Also Tuesday morning, three women and a child were killed when Hamas militants attacked the Gaza home of a senior Fatah security official with mortars and grenades, security officials said.
The gunmen seized Hassan Abu Rabi and killed his 14-year-old son and three women in the house, hospital officials said. Fatah gunmen also stormed the house of a Hamas lawmaker and burned it to the ground.
The fighting disrupted final exams for university and high school students. The three universities called off final exams set for Tuesday.
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