Saturday, February 03, 2007

Thirteen dead as Palestinian truce in tatters

By Adel Zaanoun

Agence France Presse
2 February 2007

GAZA CITY, Feb 2 2007--Thirteen Palestinians have died in
24 hours of fighting between warring factions in the Gaza
Strip, with shootings, mortar attacks and the storming of
a university torpedoing yet another truce.

Sustained clashes between Hamas and Fatah were raging
across the territory Friday on what should have been the
fourth day of a ceasefire aimed at halting the
bloodletting that has boiled over from a year-long power

Three members of the mainstream Palestinian intelligence
service, including a deputy chief commander, were killed
in fighting with Hamas militants in the Jabaliya refugee
camp, security and medical sources said.

Another four bodies were discovered on Friday and around
170 Palestinians have been wounded in violence over the
last 24 hours, said a medical source, with clashes most
concentrated on Friday in the Jabaliya refugee camp.

Dozens of members of Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas's
presidential guard were wounded when Hamas militants and
members of a controversial "executive force" controlled by
the Islamist government fired a mortar into their training
camp in Gaza City.

"Between 40 and 50 new recruits of the presidential guard
were wounded and there are perhaps some killed," a Force
17 official told AFP.

Presidential guards had overnight stormed the Islamic
University in Gaza City, a known Hamas bastion and the
most prestigious centre of higher education in the
impoverished territory largely sealed off from the outside

Several gunmen were detained, while weapons and explosives
were confiscated during a sweep of the campus, a security
source said.

Fatah said the operation had been ordered after Hamas
militants apparently hunkered down at the university fired
mortar shells and rocket-propelled grenades towards Gaza's
main presidential compound.

The fighting deteriorated as the four sponsors of the
stalled Middle East peace process, the European Union,
Russia, United Nations and United States, were to meet in
Washington Friday in a bid to fast-track peace efforts.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is to press for a
renewed push to bolster Abbas in his battle for power with
Islamist party Hamas, which won a general election last
year and which the West blacklists as a terrorist outfit.

The latest clashes flared after Hamas accused Washington
of trying to provoke a Palestinian civil war by granting
86 million dollars to bolster Fatah security forces and
claimed an Arab country had shipped arms to Fatah.

A ceasefire had come into effect on Tuesday amid
increasing international pressure on the factions to
resolve their differences and negotiate a power-sharing
agreement after months of broken talks and collapsed

Six Palestinians were killed and another 70 wounded on
Thursday, after a Hamas ambush of a presidential guard
supply convoy from Egypt left one guard dead although
Fatah flatly denied the trucks had been transporting

Hamas condemned the Fatah storming of the university and
denied that the institution had been used to hide fighters
or weapons.

"We heavily condemn this action of the presidential guard
and its acts of vandalism committed at the Islamic
University, which is an academic institution without armed
men or stashes of weapons," said spokesman Ismail Radwan.

A Fatah security source charged that two top leaders in
Hamas's executive force -- branded "illegal" by Abbas --
had been arrested but a Hamas spokesman denied the report,
saying a commander in central Gaza was detained instead.

The presidency has blamed Hamas for the latest Gaza
violence, just days after the deadliest bout of
internecine Palestinian violence in a year ended with 35
people dead as Arab diplomats battled to secure a

Fatah, moderate and secular, and Hamas, radical and
Islamist, have tried for months to form a national unity
government in the hope that Western aid payments will
resume and reverse an unprecedented economic crisis.

Hamas has steadfastly refused to accept Western conditions
that it renounce violence, recognise Israel and abide by
past peace deals.

The political showdown turned violent after Abbas
announced in December that he would call new elections in
the hope of wresting control from Hamas.

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