Deadly Fighting Resumes Between Hamas and Fatah

By Ibrahim Barzak and Karin Laub
Associated Press
Wednesday, May 16, 2007

GAZA CITY, May 15 -- Hamas gunmen riddled a Fatah police jeep with gunfire at close range Tuesday, killing eight policemen and pushing the Palestinian government closer to collapse.

Gunmen in black ski masks controlled the streets and terrified residents huddled in their homes. Israel was briefly drawn into the battle.

"I don't know when it's going to end," said Salman Abu Arafeh, 42, a Gaza City interior decorator who was pinned down with his family for hours by gunfire in his apartment building. A total of 15 people were killed in Tuesday's fighting.

In the West Bank, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called for the immediate implementation of a security plan that would put all rival forces under one command. But the fighting made clear that the Hamas-Fatah power struggle was never really resolved, despite formation of a power-sharing government in March.

Gaza's turmoil further weakened hopes for a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, despite a new push by Arab states to bring the sides to the table, based on an offer of Arab recognition of Israel in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal from all lands it occupied in the 1967 Middle East war.

In the deadliest battle Tuesday, Hamas gunmen fired rockets, rocket-propelled grenades and mortar rounds early in the day at a training base for Fatah forces guarding the Karni cargo crossing with Israel.

After the initial attack, Hamas gunmen fired on Fatah reinforcements rushing to the scene, and a jeep carrying Fatah fighters veered off the road and crashed. Hamas gunmen surrounded the vehicle and riddled it with gunfire, said a witness who works in a nearby factory.

Two Israeli helicopter gunships and three tanks moved toward the area, and Hamas fighters quickly withdrew. A major in the Palestinian presidential guard was killed by Israeli army fire as he tried to leave the crossing, security officials said.

Before sundown, Hamas said it fired rockets at Sderot, an Israeli town near Gaza, in retaliation for the Israeli attack. Residents counted more than 20 rockets. One rocket hit a house, seriously wounding an Israeli woman.

Israel closed Karni, the only route for cargo into Gaza.

[Early Wednesday, gunmen wounded a top Egyptian official in Gaza as he tested whether a shaky cease-fire was holding, a Palestinian security official said, according to the Reuters news agency.]

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