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Grisly Palestinian infighting flares in Gaza

Rival Palestinian forces clashed in Gaza on Sunday, killing two militants by throwing them out of high-rise buildings. Gunmen fired shots at the house of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Rival Palestinian forces clashed in Gaza on Sunday, killing two militants by throwing them out of high-rise buildings. Gunmen fired shots at the house of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas.

There were no immediate reports of casualties in the attack early Monday on Haniyeh’s house in the Shati refugee camp next to Gaza City. The attack, apparently by the rival Fatah faction, was the first time in a month of infighting that Haniyeh was targeted.

In an especially grisly incident, Hamas militants kidnapped an officer in a Fatah-linked security force, took him to the roof of a 15-story apartment building and threw him off. Mohammed Sweirki, 25, from the Presidential Guard of President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, was killed in the plunge.

That set off skirmishes through the city, including gun battles and shelling. Fatah militants surrounded the house of a Hamas mosque preacher and fired rocket-propelled grenades at the four-story building. They then entered, shooting at preacher Mohammed al-Rifati, 40, and taking him away. Later, his body was brought to a hospital. Hamas pledged revenge.

Just before midnight, a Hamas activist was thrown off the 12th floor of a building and killed, security officials said. Four other Hamas men in the building were shot and wounded, bringing the day’s toll to three dead and 36 wounded, medical officials said. Also, a Hamas militant wounded on Friday died Sunday.

Palestinian TV reported that Haniyeh called on gunmen to pull back from streets and rooftops to allow about 24,000 Gaza high school students to start their final exams on Monday.

A truce declared two weeks ago was meant to end Palestinian infighting. But last week, the fighting reignited around the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

On Sunday, three houses in Rafah were destroyed, and Hamas militants remained on rooftops. Later Sunday the fighting stopped, shops opened and people were out in the streets.

Cross-border raid
Fighting had stopped for several days as Israeli-Palestinian clashes resumed. On Sunday, Israeli political and military leaders pledged to keep up the pressure on Gaza after a cross-border raid by Palestinian militants, a failed attempt to capture a soldier.

Israel responded with a flurry of airstrikes, and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told his Cabinet there was more to come.

“I said a week ago that our operations in Gaza will continue as long as it takes to block the terrorists attempts to infiltrate and the Qassam rockets,” he said.

Israeli forces entered southern Gaza late Sunday, witnesses said. The military said it was a routine, small-scale operation aimed at demonstrating a presence and deterring rocket fire.

The military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, favors more intensive military activity in Gaza, but not a full-scale invasion, defense officials said Sunday. They were speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

The Saturday cross-border raid was yet another escalation of the conflict. Four Islamic Jihad gunmen breached the heavily fortified Gaza-Israel border and entered an empty army base, looking for soldiers to abduct. Israeli forces encountered them, killing one. The other three escaped back to Gaza.

Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, a violent offshoot of Fatah, claimed responsibility.

Abu Ahmed, a spokesman for Islamic Jihad, said the raiders meant to snatch a soldier but the attempt was foiled by Israeli helicopter gunships called in as reinforcements.

The raiders used a vehicle marked with TV signs, drawing criticism from both Israeli and Palestinian journalists.

The Israeli military struck back early Sunday, firing missiles at a building used by Islamic Jihad officials and an arms workshop run by Fatah fighters, it said.

The Palestinian cross-border raid came two weeks short of a year since the last one, when Hamas-linked gunmen tunneled under the border and attacked an Israeli army base from the rear, killing two soldiers and capturing a third.

The soldier’s capture has been a major obstacle to political progress in the year that has passed. Israel all but refuses to discuss peace efforts before he is released, and Abbas has been shown powerless to free the soldier despite his repeated declarations that his release is at hand.

Indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas over a prisoner exchange have fizzled.