Hatem Moussa  /  AP
Palestinian police officers, one injured, take cover Monday during a gunbattle with Palestinian gunmen on the road leading to the Erez crossing between the Gaza Strip and Israel.
updated 3/20/2006 4:03:04 PM ET 2006-03-20T21:03:04

A short burst of gunfire from outside smashed through the windows of the Palestinian foreign ministry building. Then another burst, and another. Employees jumped to the floor. Some crawled under desks. Women screamed in terror.

Thirty Fatah gunmen, most of them wearing masks, broke into the government compound in Gaza City on Monday, fired their rifles in the air and demanded jobs.

Minutes later, scores of police charged into the compound to root out the invaders, setting off a 25-minute gunbattle that sent workers diving under their desks, shattered windows and air conditioners. Stray bullets wounded two unarmed security guards.

The battle, witnessed by an Associated Press reporter, was one of five confrontations between militants and police on Monday that left 23 people injured. The clashes highlighted the Gaza Strip’s raging chaos, which will present a daunting challenge to the incoming Hamas government.

Before the Jan. 25 parliamentary elections, the Fatah Party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas promised security jobs to a host of militants linked to the organization.

Raids in pursuit of jobs
Since Fatah’s electoral defeat, the militants have repeatedly raided government buildings demanding those jobs. Other Fatah activists who already have government positions — including nearly 60,000 members of the security forces — fear they will be fired when Hamas forms its Cabinet in the coming weeks.

Hamas has said it hopes to trim the bloated Palestinian bureaucracy — especially the security forces — and may be forced to lay off tens of thousands of workers if the international community follows through with its threats to cut off aid to the government once the militant group assumes power.

Incoming Finance Minister Omar Abdel Razek said reforming the security forces will be difficult but necessary. “They have to be targeted. Most of the corruption is within the security forces,” he said.

Early Monday, militants blocking a road leading to the main Israel-Gaza crossing point — because Abbas was going to use the road to travel from Gaza to the West Bank through Israel — got into a gunfight with police who tried to remove them.

Attack at power plant
Two dozen gunmen also briefly infiltrated Gaza’s power plant, exchanging fire with police, officials said. Gunmen also briefly entered a military hospital near the central Gaza city of Khan Younis, and militants and police engaged in a gunbattle outside a police compound.

The most violent confrontation Monday began about 10:30 a.m., when a group of gunmen, some wearing bandanas from the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, a militant group affiliated with Fatah, stormed into the government compound and tried to break into the finance ministry building, some climbing into windows after guards slammed the door shut.

About five minutes later, police sirens blared outside, and scores of officers, some wearing balaclavas, jumped out of their cars and began firing in the air. For 25 minutes, the whole complex, filled with office workers, turned into a battle scene.

Police fanned out throughout the compound as the gunbattle erupted. Some gunmen ran through a street between the finance ministry and the foreign ministry, where the AP reporter was at the time. Others jumped onto the six-foot wall around the compound.

Three of the militants broke into the foreign ministry, searching for hiding places as employees shut their office doors to keep them out. One man took off his mask and hid his small assault rifle under his jacket.

Then came the gunfire from outside.

‘I need an ambulance!’
Two bullets hit a security guard in the legs, just yards from where the reporter was standing. “I need an ambulance! I need an ambulance,” the wounded man screamed. He was brought to a hospital and was in moderate condition.

A second nearby guard was wounded in the arm by shrapnel. The room filled with the acrid odor of gunpowder and the sticky smell of blood.

Police ran into the building and nabbed one of the militants inside. The two others jumped through a bathroom window, but were later caught.

A total of seven gunmen, 12 police and four others were wounded in the violence Monday, at least nine of them by gunfire.

The gunbattles were the most intense in months, and came a day after Hamas’ designated prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, handed Abbas a proposed 24-member Cabinet dominated by Hamas activists.

Abbas was not expected to submit the list to parliament for approval before Israel’s March 28 elections.

Abbas, who favors negotiating a final peace settlement with Israel, has urged Hamas to moderate its violent ideology but likely will approve the Cabinet, his aides say. He will, however, warn Hamas that its refusal to soften positions that could hurt the Palestinians’ international standing.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments