Hamas-Fatah fighting worst in 2 months

Updated: 2007-05-12 06:49

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - Hamas gunmen opened fire Friday on forces of the rival Fatah and injured at least six people throughout the Gaza Strip in another setback to a new security plan aimed at halting the wave of violence plaguing the chaotic coastal area.

With 10 Palestinians wounded over a two-day period, it was the worst factional fighting since the formation of the Hamas-Fatah unity government nearly two months ago.

Despite the growing tensions, it was unlikely the coalition would break apart soon because neither party can govern alone or is eager to go to elections.

Later Friday, six members of Hamas' militia were wounded in a family feud that appeared unrelated to its rivalry with Fatah, Palestinian security officials said.

The factional tensions flared Thursday after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas ordered the deployment of about 3,000 police in Gaza City. The troops took up positions at main intersections and government buildings.

Hamas was upset that Abbas, the Fatah leader, has not coordinated the new deployment with them. On Friday, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh canceled a scheduled meeting with senior security commanders in an apparent show of displeasure.

Despite the renewed tensions, Abbas was to leave Gaza for the West Bank on Saturday.

After many months of clashes between the sides, some Gazans are skeptical that the new police deployment would stem the unrest.

"They look good. But can they do anything? I doubt that very much," Badar Salim, 45, a Gaza City merchant said. "I hope this is something real, not just a show for the media."

The plan includes a joint operations room to be staffed by members of various security forces as well a joint security unit, said Ghazi Hamad, Haniyeh's spokesman. Hamad also said security commanders would hold meetings with leaders of Gaza's political parties and militant groups to maintain calm.

"Lawlessness and chaos have become very dangerous in Gaza, and all the participants are determined to end the chaos and restore security," he said.

Friday's clashes began before dawn when a minibus filled with Hamas gunmen opened fire at a Fatah security force manning a new roadblock. Palestinian medical officials said at least four people were wounded in the exchange.

In another attack, gunmen opened fire at the national security building in central Gaza and in the northern Gaza Strip two men were wounded when Hamas gunmen opened fire at their car.

Since Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, the area has experienced a wave of infighting, armed robberies, deadly family feuds and kidnappings.

Attempts to halt the violence have failed, and the interior minister in the new Palestinian coalition government, Hani Kawasmeh, has threatened to resign because his plan for restoring security has not been carried out.

Hamas and Fatah formed a unity government in March with the aim of restoring calm. The alliance has brought a lull in factional fighting, but crime and violence remain rampant in Gaza.

Despite their power-sharing deal, Hamas and Fatah remain at odds over control over security forces. Hamas has its own force, and it was unclear how it would fit into the security plan.

Fatah has long demanded that the Hamas force be dismantled, but Hamas has refused.

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