Image: Gaza battle.
Mohammed Salem  /  Reuters
Palestinian gunmen exchange fire with Hamas security forces in Gaza, on Monday.
updated 10/3/2006 7:53:07 AM ET 2006-10-03T11:53:07

Fatah gunmen threatened on Tuesday to kill leaders of the governing Hamas group, escalating a power struggle marked by the worst internal Palestinian violence since the Palestinian Authority was created in 1994.

Twelve Palestinians have been killed and more than 100 wounded in two days of fighting between rival forces from President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction and Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank.

Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an armed wing of Fatah, said it held Hamas’ Damascus-based political chief Khaled Meshaal, Interior Minister Saeed Seyam and senior Interior Ministry official Youssef al-Zahar responsible for the deaths.

“We in al-Aqsa announce, with all might and frankness, the ruling of the people in the homeland and in the diaspora, to execute the head of the sedition, Khaled Meshaal, Saeed Seyam and Youssef al-Zahar, and we will execute this ruling so those filthy people can be made an example,” a statement said.

Abbas has been locked in an increasingly bitter power struggle with Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas over stalled efforts to form a unity government.

Hamas, which advocates Israel’s destruction, defeated Fatah in elections in January, a victory that led to a cut-off of Western aid to the Palestinian Authority and deep economic crisis in the Gaza Strip and occupied West Bank.

Hamas legislator Mushir al-Masri, responding to al-Aqsa’s first death threat against the group’s leaders, said the Fatah gunmen were “pouring oil on the fire” between the rival movements.

No mercy
Masri said Hamas would “not show mercy” if any of its top officials were targeted by what he called “the leaders of the internal coup”.

A spokesman for the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in Gaza declined to say whether the statement, sent to Reuters, represented the views of the entire group or certain factions.

He described the threat as a “natural response” after Seyam ordered his forces to take to the streets of Gaza on Sunday to confront striking policemen demanding overdue salaries.

Clashes between Hamas and Fatah forces quickly erupted and spread in the most serious Palestinian violence since the Authority was set up to oversee limited self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza under interim peace accords with Israel.

Tension has been fuelled by the government’s inability to pay full salaries to its workers, many of them from Fatah, as a result of the Western aid embargo designed to push Hamas to recognise Israel, renounce violence and abide by interim deals.

A top aide to Abbas said on Monday the president was seriously considering the possibility of forming an emergency government, an administration of technocrats or calling early elections to end the crisis with Hamas.

In a separate incident on Tuesday, an Israeli air strike destroyed a metal foundry in the southern Gaza Strip, killing one Palestinian and wounding another, medical staff and residents said.

An Israeli army spokesman said the air strike was aimed at a suspected weapons factory.

Israel has frequently targeted buildings it believes are used by militants to make or store rockets.

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


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