updated 10/20/2006 1:15:49 PM ET 2006-10-20T17:15:49

Unidentified gunmen opened fire on security vehicles escorting Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh’s convoy through Gaza on Friday, but the Hamas leader was unhurt, officials from the Islamist movement said.

Officials in Haniyeh’s office said the attack did not appear to be an assassination attempt, but it comes at a time of growing tensions between rival Palestinian factions that have stirred fears of civil war.

“The prime minister is alright and he is out of the area which witnessed the gunfire. His car was not attacked,” one official in Haniyeh’s office told Reuters.

Officials said gunfire hit vehicles of a Hamas-led police force that was behind cars carrying Haniyeh, who had just finished a speech at a mosque, where he said he would reject any moves by President Mahmoud Abbas to oust his government.

Residents in the area said the attackers were relatives of an activist from Abbas’s Fatah faction who was killed earlier this month in clashes with Hamas. Hamas security officials returned fire and one of the Hamas vehicles was set alight.

Hamas did not blame any faction for the attack.

At least 19 people have been killed this month in violence between Hamas and Fatah.

Hamas against new elections
Abbas has hinted he might fire the Hamas government after efforts to form a unity cabinet aimed at lifting crippling Western sanctions foundered over the Islamist movement’s refusal to soften its stance toward Israel.

Haniyeh said it would be pointless for Abbas to do so, suggesting any emergency administration the president appointed would not get the ultimate approval of parliament, where Hamas has an absolute majority.

He also said Hamas would reject other measures such as calling early elections. “All you have here are options that have no aim but to remove Hamas from government. The wheel of history will not go backward,” Haniyeh told worshippers at the mosque.

“All these options will not achieve stability and calm and will not represent a way out of the crisis.”

Haniyeh did not threaten explicit action to oppose Abbas, such as calling Hamas supporters out onto the streets.

Abbas, a moderate who seeks a negotiated peace with Israel, said this week he had to make a decision soon on the government’s fate.

Hamas took power after scoring a surprise win over Fatah in parliamentary elections in January, prompting Western countries to cut direct aid over the group’s refusal to recognize Israel and renounce violence. Hamas seeks to destroy the Jewish state.

The president has not explicitly identified his options but his aides have said he might call fresh elections, appoint an emergency cabinet or hold a referendum to let the Palestinian people decide what to do.

Abbas’s media adviser, Nabil Amr, said there would be a “serious” attempt to coordinate with Hamas on the various “constitutional options”.

“If there is no agreement then the president will go ahead and get the Palestinians out of this impasse,” Amr, speaking before the attack on the convoy, said without elaborating.

A senior Abbas aide told Reuters on Thursday the president was expected to make his decision several days after the Eid al-Fitr holiday, which marks the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. Eid this year falls around Oct. 23.

Haniyeh insisted the only option to resolve the crisis was to form a national unity government.

But Haniyeh reiterated Hamas would never recognize Israel nor take part in any administration that did so.

Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions.

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