Two killed and 18 hurt in fresh Hamas-Fatah fighting in Gaza
Hamas shut down gov't offices, Fatah enforces general strike in Ramallah after 9 killed in clashes Sunday.
Two people were killed and 15 others wounded in fresh clashes between Hamas and Fatah in the Gaza Strip late Monday.
The fighting erupted in the Rafah refugee camp during a protest by some 5,000 supporters of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. The demonstrators were calling for the disbanding of a Hamas-led police force and the resignation of PA Interior Minister Saeed Seyam.
One of the dead was identified as a member of Hamas, while the other was a member of Fatah.
Hamas militiamen withdrew from the streets of the Gaza Strip on Monday and returned to their normal posts after nine people were killed and at least 100 injured in clashes with Fatah-alighned forces Sunday. It was the worst day of internal violence since Hamas took control of the Palestinian government in March.
Also Monday, the fighting between the rival Palestinian factions spread to the West Bank.
In the northern West Bank town of Nablus, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party supporters shot at Palestinian Deputy Prime Minister Nasser Shaer's bodyguards as they rode in a government car, injuring two of them, said Shaer, who was not present during the attack. Hospital officials said a Fatah militant was also injured in the fighting.
In ensuing gun battles between Fatah and Hamas in Nablus, 7 people were injured.
In the West Bank town of Jericho, Fatah gunmen shot a Palestinian man who refused to close his shop, in violation of the general strike enforced by Fatah. His condition is critical.
At Gaza City's main hospital, a 20-minute gun battle erupted when the family of one of those killed Sunday arrived to retrieve his body.
The Fatah gunmen accompanying the family opened fire on the Hamas militiamen patrolling the hospital, sending patients and doctors running for cover. No one was injured in the violence, hospital officials said.
Earlier Monday, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah Party enforced a general strike, closing shops and private schools in a show of force against Hamas. For its part, the Hamas-led government ordered all ministries closed to protest Fatah attacks on government buildings.
Fatah militants also released Samir Birawi, a Hamas official in the Finance Ministry they had briefly kidnapped, telling him his abduction was intended to send Hamas a message to end the Gaza violence, Hamas officials said. The Fatah men also burned Birawi's car.
Gaza, the center of the violence that killed nine people on Sunday, remained tense Monday, and many shops were closed out of fears of renewed attacks.
Despite appeals for calm from Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, militants in Gaza torched the Agricultural Ministry early Monday, and a group of young students in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanun stoned the house of Hamas minister until his bodyguards chased them away by firing in the air.
Appeals for calmAbbas on Sunday appealed for calm after gun battles between a Hamas militia and members of the security forces loyal to his Fatah movement left eight dead.
Abbas also said Sunday he was ready renew stalled negotiations with Hamas over a unity government.
"These confrontations have crossed the red line, which we have avoided crossing for four decades," he said in a speech broadcast on Palestine TV.
Abbas condemned the violence "in the strongest terms," and ordered an official investigation into the fighting.
In an interview to the Qatar-based Al Jazeera television station broadcast earlier Sunday, Abbas said was ready to negotiate a unity government with Hamas to avoid crossing the "red line" into Palestinian civil war.
"Personally I believe that a civil war is a red line and I will not allow it under any circumstances," Abbas told Al Jazeera.
"I as a president have the right to form or dissolve the government at any time, but I say that we should exert every effort to form a unity government."
Haniyeh also urged Palestinians on Sunday to end the internal violence.
Following calls from both Abbas and Haniyeh to stop the violence, The Palestinian Interior Ministry ordered its Hamas-led security force to pull back from some positions in Gaza where they had been deployed to stop the policemen from protesting.
"The force was deployed based on Palestinian security needs," Interior Ministry spokesman Khaled Abu Hilal told reporters.
"But since the president [Abbas] has made a decision calling for the withdrawal of all forces," Abu Hilal added, "the Interior Ministry has to respond and comply with the decision of the president."
"I appeal to all citizens to be responsible and to abandon their differences, especially in the time we are facing an escalation by the occupation forces, who threaten to enlarge their scale of aggression," Haniyeh told reporters.
Haniyeh was referring to earlier comments made by Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Dan Halutz, who said Israel could step up military action in the Gaza Strip to halt rocket fire against its southern towns.
Fatah and Hamas have been holding talks on forming a unity government in an effort to end Western sanctions imposed in the wake of Hamas' election victory in January. Hamas has refused calls to recognize Israel, renounce violence and abide by previously signed interim peace accords.
"Let us be frank here, the United Stated has imposed a political, economic and social siege on us after Hamas' win," said Abbas.
Haniyeh spoke with Abbas by telephone late Sunday evening and called for joint action to end the violence between their respective parties, as well as the need to return to national unity government talks, Haniyeh's office said in a statement.
"We [Abbas and I] have agreed all parties must abide by the law and that they should not get involved in any kind of behaviour that may lead to the spread of chaos," Haniyeh told reporters in Gaza.
First spark in Khan YunisThe fighting broke out in the southern Gaza town of Khan Yunis, where dozens of police gathered outside the Bank of Palestine on Sunday morning to demand payment of salaries they have not recieved since Hamas took power in January, protesters said.
Abbas, who was in Jordan on Sunday, has been trying to end the crisis by persuading Hamas to form a coalition government and to accept international demands to renounce violence and recognize Israel. Hamas has resisted compromising its radical ideology.
In recent weeks, civil servants - including members of the security forces, many of them Fatah loyalists - held expanding protests against the Hamas-led government to demand their back wages. Hamas has been unable to pay the salaries due to the suspension of aid.
On Saturday, the Hamas-led government sent its 3,500-member militia into Gaza's streets to quash the protests.
Hamas set up its militia - which answers to the interior minister - after losing a power struggle with Abbas for control of Palestinian security forces. Since then, violence has sporadically broken out between Hamas' militia and the official police force, but it has never been as widespread as it was Sunday.
The Hamas militiamen attempted to stop demonstrations staged by the unpaid civil servants and security officials. They ordered the protesters to disperse and then opened fire at them, and they in turn responded by shooting in the air, protesters said.
Fighting then broke out in northern Gaza, where a late morning gun battle erupted between militia members and security officials.
The violence then spread to the parliament building in Gaza City, where security officers and civil servants were protesting. The protesters threw stones at nearby Hamas militiamen, who responded by hitting them with sticks and then by firing guns and anti-tank rockets and lobbing grenades at the protesters, according to an Associated Press journalist at the scene.
Militiamen and security personnel - including members of Abbas' elite bodyguard unit - began trading fire on two major streets nearby, and gunmen from both sides took positions on rooftops.
The clashes later spilled over to an area near the president's residence. Hamas militiamen scrambled up to the rooftop of the nearby Agriculture Ministry and began firing rocket-propelled grenades and rifles at the presidential guard.
"We are going to beat with iron fists all those elements who are trying to sabotage the election process of our people, those who are trying to destroy our public properties and close the streets," said Islam Shahwan, a spokesman for the militia.
The street battles killed a total of four people, including a member of Abbas' presidential bodyguard and a 15-year-old boy, according to Dr. Baker Abu Safia, director of Gaza's Shifa Hospital.
Two other people were killed in related violence, and at least 100 people were injured, hospital officials said.
A seventh person, a member of the Preventive Security force, was killed Saturday night when the car in which was traveling came under fire from unknown gunmen, security officials said.
An eighth person, a Fatah supporter, was killed after thousands of Fatah protesters in the Bureij refugee camp marched to the house of a local Hamas leader and a grenade was thrown into the crowd, setting off a nighttime gunfight, Fatah officials said. Hamas officials said the crowd attacked the house.
A gun battle between rival forces also erupted in a Gaza hospital, where many Palestinians injured in previous clashes lay, wounding at least four people.
In response to the violence, Fatah protesters in the West Bank city of Ramallah arched to the Cabinet building - which had already shut down for the day - pelted it with stones, broke in and lit the second floor on fire. The militants threw files out the windows and witnesses could see pieces of furniture being thrown about.
Fatah loyalists also kidnapped a top official in the Palestinian Finance Ministry in the West Bank city of Ramallah, a Hamas official said.
Earlier, Hamas security men in the Gaza Strip seized five members of a force loyal to Abbas.
The conditions of the kidnapped men were unknown.
A second building in the compound was also set ablaze. Forced out by the flames and smoke, the militants moved to the nearby Education Ministry and torched the minister's car on the way. They then trashed the offices of a Hamas newspaper.
In the northern West Bank city of Nablus, dozens of Fatah-allied gunmen fired in the air, closed a major road with burning tires and threatened to retaliate for any Hamas violence in Gaza with attacks in the West Bank, a Fatah stronghold.
"This is forbidden in Islam, we are in the holy month of Ramadan," said Majed Badawi, 33, who managed to escape uninjured after his car was caught in the crossfire. "It's a shame on Hamas, who call themselves real Muslims, and a shame of Fatah as well. Why are they fighting and over what? We are victims because of both of them."
"Nothing can justify this violence," said Tawfik Abu Khoussa, a Fatah spokesman.
Ghazi Hamad, a spokesman for the Hamas government, said the violence was "regrettable," but the Hamas force was acting with restraint when it was attacked.
"The protest today was beyond acceptable legal norms and turned truly into lawlessness," he said.
In the West Bank city of Hebron, Fatah-allied militants blocked roads with burning tires and ransacked the offices of local Hamas lawmakers and set the furniture on fire in the street. In Nablus, Fatah gunmen attacked a Hamas women's center and traded fire with Hamas gunmen.