updated 12/10/2006 8:53:18 PM ET 2006-12-11T01:53:18

Unidentified gunmen shot at the Palestinian interior minister’s convoy in the Gaza Strip on Sunday amid growing tension between the governing Hamas Islamists and President Mahmoud Abbas.

Interior Minister Saeed Seyam, a senior Hamas leader, escaped unharmed, the ministry said.

A Palestinian security patrol later arrested four men suspected of carrying out the shooting, officials said. They gave no details of the suspects’ affiliation.

Tension has been rising over the failure of Hamas and Abbas’s Fatah faction to form a unity government that Palestinians had hoped would end a crippling Western boycott against the Hamas administration.

Aides to Abbas said on Saturday that the president planned to call early elections after unity talks foundered.

Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh accused Abbas of trying to topple his government, which came to power after Hamas defeated Abbas’s long dominant Fatah movement in elections in January, and said fresh polls would worsen unrest.

Interior Ministry spokesman Khaled Abu Hilal said the minister’s convoy had been shot at in Gaza City, and guards had chased and shot at the perpetrators, but nobody had been hurt.

He called the shooting “a result of the latest inflammatory statements against the government.”

Unity talks collapse
Unity talks have broken down over Hamas’s rejection of Western demands to recognize Israel, and its insistence on holding the interior and finance portfolios in a new government.

Palestinians have hoped that a unity government run by non-partisan technocrats could help ease a Western aid boycott aimed at pressuring Hamas not only to recognise Israel but also to accept past peace deals and renounce violence.

The boycott has nearly bankrupted the Palestinian government and worsened poverty in Gaza and the occupied West Bank.

Haniyeh, who is visiting Iran, a key backer of Hamas, said early elections would “trample on the wishes of the people” and would “increase the tensions and have a negative effect on the whole Palestinian situation”.

“We believe in national unity and the formation of a Palestinian national unity government,” Haniyeh said. “We will not accept by any means any pressure that is exerted from either inside or outside Palestine.”

On Saturday, two guards were wounded by gunfire outside the Gaza parliament building as security personnel protested at not being paid for months by the cash-strapped government.

Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions.

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