New shooting ends Gaza cease-fire

Updated: 2006-12-18 13:45

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - Palestinian gunmen waged a street battle outside the residence of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas around dawn Monday, dashing hopes that an overnight truce would bring quiet to the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian gunmen from the Fatah Movement carry their weapons as they march in support of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the Jebaliya refugee camp, northern Gaza Strip, Sunday, Dec. 17, 2006.
Palestinian gunmen from the Fatah Movement carry their weapons as they march in support of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the Jebaliya refugee camp, northern Gaza Strip, Sunday, Dec. 17, 2006. [AP]

The rival factions Hamas and Fatah are fighting for control over the Palestinian government, and the volatile coastal territory was buffeted by violence all day Sunday. Three people were killed in Sunday's fighting, in which gunmen shot up the Palestinian foreign minister's convoy and militants launched mortar shells at Abbas' office.

Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh has accused Abbas of inflaming the political crisis by calling for early elections and said his Hamas group would boycott the poll. Abbas, a moderate from Fatah, called for new elections to resolve the political deadlock that has paralyzed the Palestinian government since the hardline Hamas militants won January parliamentary elections.

Hamas' electoral victory split the Palestinian government, with Abbas seeking peace with Israel and Hamas refusing to even recognize the Jewish state's existence. The political tensions have repeatedly turned violent and the chaos has spiraled out of control since unknown gunmen killed the three young sons of a Fatah-allied security chief last week.

Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar's motorcade came under fire Sunday as it drove near the Foreign Ministry in Gaza City. Zahar was unharmed, but the attack unleashed a ferocious gunbattle that raged for more than an hour, the worst fighting since unity government talks broke down late last month. Medical officials said a 19-year-old woman was killed in the crossfire.

Zahar said top Fatah leaders were "fully responsible" for the attack on him "and what will happen."

In a separate attack blamed on Hamas, dozens of gunmen raided a training camp of Abbas' Presidential Guard near the president's residence, killing a member of the elite force.

Hamas gunmen also opened fire at a demonstration of tens of thousands of Fatah supporters in northern Gaza, wounding at least one person, and unknown militants fired at least two mortars at Abbas' office in Gaza City. Hours later, they launched another mortar shell.

Five pro-Fatah security men and a 45-year-old woman were wounded, officials said. Abbas was in the West Bank at the time.

Elsewhere, the bullet-riddled body of a top security officer affiliated with Fatah, Col. Adnan Rahmi, was discovered in northern Gaza several hours after he disappeared, Palestinian medical officials and his family said. No group took responsibility, but Rahmi's family blamed Hamas for the killing.

The violence persisted throughout the night, with Hamas and Fatah gunmen waging battles in the northern Gaza town of Jebaliya, near the home of a Fatah strongman in Gaza, and outside the Gaza parliament building. Hamas militants also clashed with Abbas' bodyguard unit outside his Gaza home.

A French reporter, 46-year-old Didier Francois of the newspaper Liberation, was shot in the leg during the day's violence, according to his newspaper.

Egyptian mediators and small Palestinian factions worked all day to broker an agreement between the two sides, and a truce was announced at a press conference in Gaza City after midnight.

But representatives of Fatah and Hamas did not appear at the press conference, leaving the announcement to Rabbah Muhanna, a senior official in the small Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. "Both sides are serious about the agreement," Muhanna assured reporters.


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