Gunfights erupted across the Gaza Strip Thursday, killing at least six people after Hamas militants hijacked a convoy delivering supplies to the rival Fatah-allied security forces, effectively destroying a short-lived truce.
An Egyptian mediator blamed Hamas and called for calm three days after he persuaded the warring factions to end weeks of clashes that killed dozens. However, the truce did not resolve underlying disputes that set off the conflict between the Islamic Hamas, which is running the Palestinian government, and President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement.
Both sides appeared willing to avoid a full-scale civil war, but they were just as adamant over keeping their own security forces on the streets — a recipe for more clashes. The renewed violence also hurt chances for talks to form a joint government that might end punishing Western foreign aid sanctions.
Late Thursday, hundreds of Fatah gunmen stormed a Hamas stronghold, the Islamic University in Gaza City. At least two people were wounded, and flames were seen leaping from one of the university's buildings.
The trouble started Thursday morning with some gunfire, but an incident in the Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza set off clashes all over the impoverished seaside territory.
Hamas gunmen ambushed a convoy guarded by the Fatah presidential guard and hijacked two trucks filled with tents, medical kits and toilets, security officials said. The United States and some Arab countries had pledged to give equipment and training to the security forces loyal to Abbas.
The attack sparked the new fighting, which killed six people in Bureij, including a security officer, hospital officials said.
Soon after, separate gunbattles broke out in Gaza City and in northern Gaza outside a military intelligence post. Security officials said Hamas militants fired a rocket at the post and then sacked it, wounding five members of the security forces. At least two Hamas supporters were wounded, Hamas said. In all, hospital officials said 59 people were wounded in the clashes.
Hamas militants fired mortar shells near Abbas' residence in Gaza City, and nearby street battles sent residents fleeing in terror. Abbas was not in Gaza at the time.
"Fatah views with gravity the series of violations to the agreement, which has gone beyond the acceptable limits," Fatah said in a statement, calling on its followers to "act in self-defense."
Information Minister Youssef Rizka of Hamas called on Gazans to form a "human shield" between the factions to stop the fighting. Hamas spokesman Abu Obeida fiercely denounced Fatah and warned Abbas to get his forces off the streets "before it is too late."
Islamic Jihad calls for truce talks
Col. Burhan Hamad, the head of the Egyptian security team in Gaza that negotiated the truce, denounced the attack on the convoy as "unjustified" and angrily blamed Hamas. He appealed to the warring factions to stop the new clashes. The violent Islamic Jihad, in the role of peacemaker, called for convening an urgent meeting to discuss resumption of the truce.
The mufti of Gaza called for a truce, saying Muslims shedding Muslim blood is "taboo." Another appeal came from the owner of a wedding hall, who said he had 450 women and children trapped by the gunfire.
In the raid on the Islamic University, a security official affiliated with Fatah said seven Iranian citizens were arrested and an eighth committed suicide. The security official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
A Hamas official denied the claim and said there were no Iranian citizens at the university. Iran has supplied Hamas with funds, but there have been no previous claims of Iranians working with Hamas in Gaza.
Israeli forces kill four
Also Thursday, Israeli forces shot and killed four Palestinians in several incidents in the West Bank.
In the West Bank town of Tulkarem, Israeli troops killed a militant when he tried to flee after they tried to arrest him, the army said.
Earlier, in the city of Nablus, troops killed two Palestinian gunmen, hospital officials and local militants said. A gunfight broke out when an Israeli military force entered the city in a pre-dawn raid, and two militants from the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a violent offshoot of Fatah, were killed, the officials said.
Israeli troops also shot and killed a Palestinian teenager along Israel's West Bank separation barrier near the city of Ramallah.