5 Palestinians die in factional feud

Despite Hamas-Fatah agreement, killings stoke fears of renewed violence, infighting

February 25, 2007|By New York Times News Service

JERUSALEM -- Five Palestinians were killed and more than 40 wounded in fighting between clans Friday and early yesterday in Khan Yunis, a town in the southern Gaza Strip. Though the clashes were portrayed in the Palestinian news media as a feud between families, they also took on a factional hue, since one of the families is identified with Hamas and the other with its political rival, Fatah.

The deaths raised fears of a possible round of revenge killings and renewed factional fighting between Hamas and Fatah after two weeks of relative calm. The fighting between Hamas and Fatah, which had killed almost 100 people in the Gaza Strip since December, eased after leaders of the groups signed an agreement in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on Feb. 8 to share power in a proposed national unity government.

The latest round of violence in Khan Yunis started late Friday with the fatal shooting of Muhammad Ali Ghalban, 27, a member of Hamas' Iz al-Din al-Qassam underground, according to Palestinian news reports. Hamas said Ghalban was killed by armed men from the Kawareh family. The reports said the killing was apparently an act of revenge for the death of a Kawareh relative in factional fighting a month ago. A few hours later, Hazem Kawareh, 30, a Fatah supporter, and a passer-by, Ismail Sabah, 73, were killed, according to Israeli and Palestinian news reports. Palestinian news reports listed the two other fatalities as Ghada Kawareh, 28, and Salama Abu Shabab, 55, although details of the killings were not provided.

In developments elsewhere, Israeli forces discovered a bomb-making factory in the West Bank city of Nablus during an overnight operation that ended yesterday, an army spokesman said. Five pipe bombs, two gas balloons, materials for bomb making and large quantities of shrapnel were found in the factory, in the Old City market area. Palestinians threw a grenade and opened fire on the soldiers, and one member of Islamic Jihad was arrested, the spokesman said.

The army spokesman also confirmed that the Egyptian police found a ton of explosives Friday in the Sinai desert, near the border with the Gaza Strip. The discovery came as Egyptian forces scoured the area for Palestinian militants thought to have come to Sinai from Gaza with the intention of attacking Israeli tourists at resorts in the desert peninsula. Several Palestinians were arrested earlier in the week in the northern Sinai carrying explosives belts. Israeli authorities have warned Israeli tourists to leave Sinai resorts immediately.

On Friday, two Qassam rockets were launched from the Gaza Strip in the direction of Israeli communities across the border. They fell in open areas and caused no injuries. That brings the number of Qassam rockets launched from Gaza in the past week to 12, according to the Israeli army, despite a cease-fire that was declared in November.

At a news conference in Jerusalem on Wednesday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel "would not restrain itself forever" in the face of the Qassam fire. "Israel's patience is being tested too often. In the end, we will respond and reach out to those responsible," he said, without specifying any timetable for action.

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