Violence deepens in Gaza

11 Palestinians die in fighting between Fatah, Hamas groups

May 16, 2007|By Henry Chu | Henry Chu,LOS ANGELES TIMES

JERUSALEM -- The anarchy gripping the Gaza Strip deepened yesterday as 11 Palestinians were killed in factional fighting, eight in a single ambush near the border with Israel.

It was the deadliest day amid a surge of Palestinian violence that began Sunday between members of the rival Fatah and Hamas factions. In three days, 20 people have been killed and dozens wounded.

Palestinian leaders appealed for an end to the street fighting, which has undermined a national "unity" government meant to bring the factions together. But such calls have gone unheeded.

Meanwhile, the possibility of Israeli military action increased after a barrage of rockets launched by Palestinian militants in Gaza struck the town of Sederot in Israel, injuring 12. A woman was in serious condition after a rocket hit her house, Israeli news media said.

The ambush in Gaza that killed eight occurred yesterday morning near the Karni crossing into Israel, a key pipeline for goods that has been closed because of the spiraling violence among Palestinians.

Fatah said its security forces came under fire from Hamas gunmen near a training base for officers who patrol the area. At least one of the Palestinians was shot by Israeli troops on the other side of the border. The Israeli military said soldiers opened fire when they saw two gunmen running toward the fence.

Hamas denied responsibility for the assault. But Gazans braced for revenge attacks, despite a plea from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for "an end to civil strife and the ghost of internal fighting."

Abbas' government is on shaky ground. Interior Minister Hani Kawasmeh quit Monday, complaining of a lack of commitment by Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh to integrating the rival Palestinian security agencies that are battling for control of the streets.

Abbas is a member of Fatah, while Haniyeh belongs to the Islamic group Hamas. Their power-sharing agreement, which took weeks to come to fruition because of bickering over who gets to be in charge of security, looks increasingly hollow.

Analyst Ghassan Khatib said it was unlikely that the Palestinian government would collapse, because both men have few alternatives. Their inability to stem the fighting, even after Haniyeh was said to have personally called street commanders in Gaza to ask them to pull back, has further eroded their credibility.

In addition to the eight killed near the Karni crossing, another Fatah security agent, a Hamas fighter and a civilian died in clashes, hospital officials said.

Palestinians have watched their living standards plummet because of the conflict, the refusal of Israel to turn over frozen tax revenues, and the cutoff in aid from the European Union and the United States, which regard Hamas as a terrorist organization. Shops, schools, and offices in Gaza have been closed since the factional violence broke out Sunday.

In a meeting yesterday in Belgium, Palestinian Foreign Minister Ziad abu Amr urged the EU to resume its assistance.

For his part, Javier Solana, the EU's chief of foreign policy, pressed the Palestinian government to quell the factional violence so that peace efforts with Israel could resume.

"It would be very difficult to move forward politically if the situation internally among the Palestinians was not guaranteed," Solana said.

Henry Chu writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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