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Further Clashes Kill 2 in Gaza

A rally turns deadly as the rival Palestinian groups Fatah and Hamas move to curb the fighting. More violence erupts in the West Bank.

October 03, 2006|Ken Ellingwood | Times Staff Writer

JERUSALEM — Scattered clashes were reported Monday around the Gaza Strip and West Bank, a day after fierce fighting between the ruling Hamas movement and rivals in the formerly dominant Fatah party.

At least two people were reported killed and 15 wounded after gunfire broke out in the southern Gazan town of Rafah during a Fatah demonstration against Hamas late Monday.

The clash occurred as the two Palestinian groups appeared to pull back from even greater confrontations after shootouts Sunday that left at least eight people dead and scores wounded in the Gaza Strip, the deadliest violence during a months-long power struggle.

Hamas withdrew its force of about 3,000 officers from the streets Monday after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas ordered security force members, most of them from his Fatah movement, to halt protests over the government's failure to pay them. Hamas had deployed its forces to prevent the demonstrations, leading to the clashes between the rival forces.

Palestinian soldiers stood at intersections and government buildings in Gaza City, and businesses there reopened.

But Hamas shut government offices in the Gaza Strip for the day to protest the violence. Businesses and schools observed a general strike in the West Bank, where gunmen had set fire to the headquarters of the Hamas-led Cabinet.

The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, an armed wing of Fatah, threatened today to kill Hamas leaders, including exiled political chief Khaled Meshaal, the Reuters news agency reported. The agency said the brigade had sent a statement in which it held the leaders responsible for the deaths in the recent fighting.

As families in Gaza held funerals for the victims, there was scattered new violence.

In the West Bank, bodyguards of Deputy Prime Minister Nasser Shaer, of Hamas, were fired upon in the town of Nablus. A bodyguard and a Fatah militant were wounded during the exchange of fire.

A 36-year-old shop owner in Jericho was wounded by gunmen seeking to enforce the general strike, Palestinian officials said. A Palestinian news report said he had died, but that could not be independently confirmed.

Hamas offices were attacked in several West Bank towns, including Nablus and Jenin. Vandals set fire to the Agriculture Ministry office in Gaza City, though damage was light.

The protesting security officers, and thousands of other public employees, have been largely unpaid since Western donors cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority after Hamas, an Islamic militant group, won parliamentary elections in January.

Hamas, which does not recognize Israel, is classified as a terrorist group by the United States and European Union.

The donors have said they will resume aid if the Hamas-led government recognizes Israel, renounces violence and agrees to honor past Israeli-Palestinian agreements. Hamas has refused to do so despite Abbas' efforts to prod it into a coalition with Fatah, which favors a negotiated settlement and side-by-side Israeli and Palestinian states.

Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, a Hamas leader, announced a tentative agreement on a unity government last month but the deal has fallen apart since then, largely over the issue of recognizing Israel.

The two hoped that a new government platform would end the aid cutoff, which has left the Palestinian government unable to pay its 165,000 employees.

Abbas, who is to return today from Jordan, faces difficult choices. Renewed unity talks hold limited promise because of the likelihood of a continued impasse over recognition of the Jewish state. Dissolving the Hamas government could invite fresh violence and usher in elections whose outcome would be anything but predictable.

*

ken.ellingwood@latimes.com

Special correspondents Rushdi abu Alouf in Gaza City and Maher Abukhater in Ramallah contributed to this report.

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