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Rival Palestinian Factions Clash in Gaza for Fourth Day

28 January 2007

Rival Palestinian factions have clashed in the Gaza Strip for the fourth straight day. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, 25 Palestinians have been killed since fighting erupted on Thursday.

Gunmen from the ruling Islamic militant group Hamas and the rival Fatah faction fought street battles in heavily populated Gaza City. Both sides have abducted hostages.

Many terrified Palestinian residents have fled their homes. Schools and most businesses are closed, and traffic is paralyzed, as gunmen set up roadblocks with concrete barriers.

Fighting erupted Thursday, after moderate Palestinian President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas renewed a threat to call early elections. Mr. Abbas is locked in a violent power struggle with Hamas that has raised fears of civil war. Hamas has been crippled by Western sanctions, and Mr. Abbas wants to set up a more moderate national unity government that would be acceptable to the international community.

But in the wake of the fighting, the latest round of coalition talks collapsed.

Senior Fatah official Jibril Rajoub told Israel Radio, it is an intolerable situation that is unprecedented in the history of the Palestinians.

At the same time, Rajoub said, he does not believe the situation will deteriorate into civil war, because that is not in the interest of either side.

But Hamas legislator Yehiah Moussa warned that Fatah is fanning the flames of civil war.

Moussa accused Fatah of collaborating with Israel in a coup d'etat aimed at toppling the elected Hamas government.

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