Image: Fatah-allied militant shoots at door.
Nasser Shiyoukhi / AP
A masked Fatah-allied militant shoots at the door of the office of  a local Hamas lawmaker as furniture is burned in the street, in the West Bank city of Hebron, on Sunday.
updated 10/2/2006 7:24:13 PM ET 2006-10-02T23:24:13

Gunbattles erupted Monday night between Fatah gunmen and Hamas militiamen in the southern Gaza town of Rafah, killing two people and wounding 14 a day after a deadly explosion of internal violence paralyzed the Gaza Strip.

The fighting was the latest in a series of sporadic battles over the past two days as tensions remained high between the two groups. Fatah militants enforced a general strike in many West Bank towns in a show of strength against Hamas, while the Hamas-led government ordered all ministries closed to protest Fatah attacks on government buildings.

But there was less violence Monday compared to the chaos and running street battles that killed eight people and wounded 100 others across Gaza a day earlier.

In an effort to reduce friction, Hamas pulled its militiamen out of Gaza’s major streets Monday and sent them back to their posts.

“Gaza today is better, and moving toward calm,” Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas told his Cabinet on Monday afternoon, but said he feared violence in the West Bank, where Fatah militants threatened to retaliate for the Gaza fighting.

“We reiterate to our people to be responsible, not to spread the circle of disagreements and conflict, and not to transfer events to other parts of the nation,” Haniyeh said.

Hours after he spoke, Fatah gunmen marched through Rafah to protest the Hamas-led government and its militia, witnesses said. When they approached a militia post, a gunbattle broke out, and five people were wounded, one seriously, they said.

The fighting ended after Hamas and Fatah officials called on their supporters to back down.

But minutes later, a battle erupted in a Fatah stronghold across town that killed two people and left nine wounded. Fatah officials said Hamas militiamen opened fire on Fatah supporters as they drove near a roadblock. Hamas said its militia came under fire from the car and fought back.

Started over wages
The latest round of violence began in Gaza on Sunday when the 3,500-man Hamas militia confronted members of the Fatah-dominated security forces who were protesting the government’s inability to pay their wages. Fatah militants responded by torching the Cabinet building in Ramallah and trashing Hamas offices in the West Bank.

Hamas, which ousted Fatah in January parliamentary elections, formed the militia in April after losing a power struggle for control of the security forces with President Mahmoud Abbas, a Fatah leader elected separately last year.

The violence further dampened hopes for a coalition government between Fatah and Hamas, which was aimed at ending economic sanctions imposed on the Palestinian Authority after Hamas’ election victory. Those sanctions left the government unable to pay its 165,000 workers.

Coalition talks stalled as Abbas unsuccessfully pushed for Hamas to accept Western demands to moderate its violent ideology.

Fatah lawmaker Saeb Erekat, an Abbas confidant, dismissed the possibility of a quick return to talks. “Coalition talks suffered before this (violence),” he said. “At the moment, we are focusing on ensuring these things will not recur.”

Abbas was abroad Monday and scheduled to return Tuesday.

Abbas ordered striking security officers to return to work Monday, and their protest tent — a tangible source of tension with the Hamas government — lay empty outside the parliament building in Gaza. However, a similar tent outside the West Bank parliament building in Ramallah was filled with protesters.

“The strike is still ongoing, and it seems that there is no end in sight,” said Bassem Hadaidah, a spokesman for the strikers.

Hospital clash
Meanwhile, in other violence, a gunbattle erupted at Gaza City’s main hospital when relatives of one of Sunday’s victims arrived to retrieve his body. Fatah gunmen accompanying them opened fire on Hamas militiamen patrolling the hospital. No one was hurt, hospital officials said.

In the northern West Bank city of Nablus, Fatah militants shot at 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 Jericho, a Fatah gunman trying to enforce the general strike shot a shop owner in the head, seriously wounding him, Fatah officials said. The wounded man was also a Fatah member, the officials said.

Violence between Fatah and Hamas loyalists plagued Gaza in the spring, but largely ended when Israel launched an offensive June 28 after Hamas-linked militants captured an Israeli soldier.

Abu Mujahed, a spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees, one of the groups responsible for Cpl. Gilad Shalit’s capture, said contacts with Egyptian mediators trying to broker his release had resumed, but there was no progress.

The militants are demanding Israel release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in return for Shalit.

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


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