Hamas, Fatah clash, pull back

October 03, 2006|By Ken Ellingwood | Ken Ellingwood,Los Angeles Times

JERUSALEM -- Scattered clashes were reported yesterday 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.

However, both groups appeared to pull back from even greater confrontations after shootouts the previous day had 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 yesterday after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas ordered security force members, mostly 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 took up positions yesterday at intersections and government buildings in Gaza City, and businesses reopened.

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.

As family members in Gaza held funerals for the victims, there was scattered new violence. A gun battle broke out in the southern town of Rafah last night during a Fatah demonstration against Hamas. At least eight people were reported injured.

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

A 36-year-old Jericho shop owner was wounded by gunmen seeking to enforce the general strike, according to Palestinian officials. 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, although 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 won parliamentary elections in January.

Hamas, which does not recognize Israel's right to exist, is classified as a terrorist organization by the United States and European Union. The donors have said they will renew aid if the Hamas-led government recognizes Israel, renounces violence and agrees to honor past Israeli-Palestinian agreements.

Hamas has refused, 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 Ismail Haniyeh, the Palestinian prime minister and a Hamas leader, announced tentative agreement on a unity government last month but the deal has fallen apart, largely over the issue of recognizing Israel.

The two hoped 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 continued impasse over recognition of the Jewish state. Dissolving the Hamas government could invite fresh violence and usher in elections whose outcome is anything but predictable.

But ordinary Palestinians have grown increasingly impatient over the financial crisis, putting pressure on the leaders to find a way to end the impasse.

In other developments yesterday, Palestinians reported that a fisherman was shot and killed by gunfire from an Israeli patrol boat off the Gaza coast. But the Israeli military said it was unaware of any shooting incident involving its navy.

Ken Ellingwood writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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