Premier ends trip amid Arab violence

Gunmen kill judge

Hamas blames Fatah, vows revenge

December 14, 2006|By Richard Boudreaux and Rushdi Abu Alouf | Richard Boudreaux and Rushdi Abu Alouf,LOS ANGELES TIMES

KHAN YUNIS, Gaza Strip -- Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh cut short a visit abroad yesterday after gunmen killed a judge from his Hamas movement on the fourth straight day of factional violence in the Gaza Strip.

The fighting among Palestinians came as Israeli soldiers shot a Palestinian through the Israel-Gaza border fence, the first killing in the territory by Israeli forces since a cease-fire began 18 days ago.

A Hamas statement accused the Fatah Party - led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas - of sending a police death squad to ambush Judge Bassam Fara on his way to work. As Hamas vowed to avenge the killing, Abbas deployed Fatah-led troops to Gaza City, feeding fears of a wider conflict.

Fara, 30, a member of this city's largest clan, had a dual identity as a civil court judge and a commander in Hamas' armed wing. His widow said that he had received death threats this week.

The assailants fired automatic rifles from parked cars as the judge crossed the street in front of the courthouse at 7:40 a.m., said Yasser Abed Ghafour, a teacher who saw the incident. At least nine gunmen in three cars were involved, he said.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. Fatah denied any involvement and attributed it to a family dispute.

The rival movements' police and militias have been skirmishing on and off since Hamas, an Iranian-backed Islamist movement, unseated the more moderate Fatah in elections last January and took control of the parliament and Cabinet.

Yesterday's killing was the first in the recent flare-up that either group has publicly blamed on the other. The new fighting erupted after Abbas made it known Saturday that he plans to call early elections in a bid to form a government more palatable to Israel and the West. Economic sanctions aimed at forcing Hamas to recognize Israel and renounce violence have caused severe hardships in the West Bank and Gaza.

Haniyeh said Hamas would resist early elections.

On Sunday, men opened fire at the motorcade of the Hamas-led Interior Ministry, but no one was injured. The next morning, gunmen ambushed a car taking the three young sons of a senior Fatah intelligence official to school, killing the boys and their driver. On Tuesday, Fatah and Hamas militants traded gunfire in the streets here, wounding four.

Yesterday's killing prompted Haniyeh to head home from Sudan, shortening what had been billed as a monthlong tour of Arab and Islamic countries that began Nov. 28.

"We need the prime minister to be here now to resolve these internal problems," said an adviser, Ahmed Youssef.

For Hamas, those problems include Abbas' deployment this week of dozens of his presidential guard troops near key government installations, a move to narrow Hamas' firepower advantage over Fatah in Gaza. Yesterday, 1,000 Fatah militants marched on Abbas' house to demand more forceful action against Hamas.

Haniyeh said Abbas' troops "have nothing to do with internal security" and are "obstructing the performance of the Interior Ministry," which is led by Hamas.

During his tour, Haniyeh secured $360 million in aid pledges from Iran, Qatar and Sudan to help pay overdue salaries to his government's 165,000 workers. He also visited Syria and Egypt.

The shooting at the Israel-Gaza border occurred last night after a man approached the Gaza side of the fence with a rifle and grenades, the Israeli army said. Israeli troops fired from their side.

Richard Boudreaux and Rushdi Abu Alouf write for the Los Angeles Times.

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