Last update - 03:33 18/12/2006
Factional violence in Gaza continues despite truce
By Amos Harel, Avi Issacharoff and Akiva Eldar, Haaretz Correspondents, and Agencies
Violent clashes continued in the Gaza Strip late Sunday, even after officials from the feuding Hamas and Fatah factions announced that a cease-fire agreement had been reached.
Hamas official Ismail Rudwan said the groups had agreed to resume talks on forming a unity government, halt armed displays, return security forces to their headquarters, release men abducted by each side and end a siege of government ministries.
The truce was brokered by three small Palestinian factions - the Islamic Jihad, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
"Fatah is trying to control it's forces. We hope there will be a cease-fire. We have serious intentions of stopping the fighting," Fatah spokesman Tawfik Abu Khoussa said. "It is now up to the other side to
also stop firing."
But even after the truce was signed, gunfire could still be heard near Abbas' offices in Gaza City, witnesses said. Other bystanders reported a major gun battle near Fatah official Mohammed Dahlan's house in Gaza. Also, minutes after the cease-fire deal was announced, word came that a Palestinian Authority security officer abducted earlier in the day had been executed.
The agreement includes an end to the fighting, the removal of armed gunmen from the streets, an end to all demonstrations and incitement in the media, and the release of captives by both sides, said Salah Zidan, a senior official in the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Zidan said the factions have agreed to establish a joint committee to investigate the recent violence, including the attack on Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh's convoy in Rafah late Thursday night.
The truce was announced at a press conference in Gaza City after midnight, but representatives of Fatah and Hamas did not appear at the 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.
(Click here for a timeline of factional violence in the Palestinian Authority over the last year).
Fatah boycotts press conference after officer executed
Fatah officials decided to boycott the joint press conference scheduled for Sunday night to protest the abduction and execution of the Palestinian Authority security officer, Adnan Rahmi.
The execution raised to three the number of Palestinians killed in a day of escalating violence between Hamas and Fatah.
Rahmi, a member of Fatah, was abducted by a group of armed militants in the Shaja'iya neighborhood in Gaza City, and his body was dumped at a hospital in northern Gaza.
Hamas gunmen opened fire at a large political rally by the rival Fatah movement earlier Sunday, wounding three people, Palestinian security officials said. An estimated 100,000 Fatah supporters were participating in the rally.
Also Sunday, two mortar shells were fired at a Force 17 postition near Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas' residence in Gaza, wounding four members of the elite presidential guard. Abbas is currently in the West Bank.
A Fatah official accused Hamas of violating an agreement reached with Egyptian mediation, according to which Hamas was to withdraw its forces from several positions in the Gaza Strip. Nonetheless, the official said, after a short while Hamas militants fired the mortar shells at Abbas' guard.
The worsening violence comes a day after Abbas of Fatah issued a call for fresh elections. The PA chairman spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Sunday by telephone and updated her on the violence.
Palestinian Legislative Council Speaker Abed al-Aziz Duaik called for the rival factions to lay down their arms Sunday.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar said Sunday the seizure of two of its ministries by forces loyal to Fatah in Gaza amounted to a "military coup."
Force 17, backed by members of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a militant group loyal to Abbas's Fatah movement, took over the Hamas-run agriculture and transport ministries as they moved to secure a large swathe of central Gaza City around where Abbas has a home.
Angered by the move, forces loyal to Hamas exchanged fire with presidential guard who were positioned on the rooftops.
Zahar, also a senior Hamas leader, demanded Abbas's forces leave the agriculture and transport ministries or said they would be arrested and disarmed.
At a Fatah rally in the West Bank city of Jenin, Mohammed Dahlan, who Hamas has accused of orchestrating an attack late Thursday on Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh's convoy, said: "We will not remain silent before the threats that the government and Hamas issue, and the terrorizing and the silencing and closing borders and the stealing of money."
Woman, Abbas guard killed in clashes
A 19-year-old Palestinian woman was fatally shot in the chest during a gunbattle between the rival Fatah and Hamas movements, medical officials said.
The officials said the woman, Hiba Masbah, died from her wounds about an hour after she was shot in central Gaza City - where rival forces were battling in the streets.
Earlier Sunday, gunmen stormed a training camp in the Gaza Strip used by Force 17, sparking gunbattles that left one officer dead and several others wounded.
The assailants were widely believed to be members of the Hamas military wing, although Hamas publicly denied involvement.
Among those wounded in the clashes was Didier Francois, a reporter for the French daily Liberation, who sustained a gunshot wound to the leg.
Hamas gunmen, angry over an apparent assassination attempt against Zahar, attacked Abbas' residence in Gaza City, witnesses said. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage to the building.
Zahar's convoy came under fire as it passed through Gaza City, and members of his Hamas movement accused Fatah of trying to assassinate him.
Zahar was unhurt in the shooting, which took place as he was traveling near the Foreign Ministry. Hamas officials said there were no other injuries.
"It appears the target was Dr. Zahar," said Taher Nunu, a spokesman for the foreign minister. "The attempt to assassinate Zahar has failed and he is safe and he was not harmed in the shooting."
Also Sunday, a Palestinian teenager was lightly wounded by Hamas gunfire after he threw rocks at a Hamas vehicle, security officials said.
Hamas officials said they didn't shoot the boy.
The attack on his Force 17 guard came as Abbas met with officials from the Palestinian Central Election Commission, in a first step toward holding early elections for PA chairman and the Palestinian legislature.
The Sunday attack on Force 17 was the first of its kind against the elite U.S.-backed Palestinian force, made up of about 3,500 security men.
As the guard's funeral procession passed through Gaza City, Fatah supporters fired automatic weapons angrily into the air. Nervous Hamas militiamen briefly opened fire.
Medical officials said one person was wounded, and Fatah and Hamas forces poured into the area in anticipation of further violence.
Tensions were high in the Gaza Strip with Hamas accusing Abbas of launching a coup after he announced a plan for early elections in an attempt to break a political deadlock and have crippling international sanctions lifted.
The assault touched off a fierce, 20-minute battle. The gunmen fled after reinforcements were sent to the base from other presidential guard camps, security officials said.
The gunmen set fire to trailers and tents. Only about a dozen guardsmen were in the camp, located about 700 meters (yards) from Abbas' office and residence.
Abbas was in the West Bank at the time of the attack. The assailants fled after reinforcements were sent to the base from other Presidential Guard camps.
The assault came several days after Hamas accused a top Abbas ally, Gaza strongman Mohammed Dahlan, of being behind a shooting attack on the entourage of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas.
A presidential guard official denounced the attack as an assault on the "symbol of Palestinian legitimacy."
Abu Ubaida, a spokesman for Hamas's armed wing, denied the group had been involved in the attack, saying "This is a wrong and irresponsible accusation."
The base is located about 700 meters from the PA chairman's residence and office in Gaza City. Abbas was in the West Bank town of Ramallah at the time of the attack.
Before arriving at the base, the gunmen attacked an electricity transformer in the area, cutting off power to the base and nearby houses, the presidential guard said.