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Palestinian Truce Tested by Factional Fighting

01 February 2007

There have been several outbreaks of fighting between the Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah in the Gaza Strip, putting a three-day old truce to the test. At least one person was killed and several others injured. VOA's Jim Teeple reports, Israeli troops shot and killed three Palestinians in separate incidents in the West Bank.

Unknown gunmen opened fire on Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum in the Gaza Strip as he drove to work. Barhoum blamed Fatah militants and said he reported the shooting to Egyptian mediators, who helped to arrange the truce that has been in effect since Tuesday.

Several other violent incidents also took place, including a gun battle between Hamas militants and security officials allied with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement. The Hamas militants attacked a convoy of trucks they say was carrying weapons to Mr. Abbas' presidential guard unit. Following the incident, there were reports of fighting at a number of other locations across Gaza.

Saeb Erekat, a close ally of Mr. Abbas, says the violence must be contained or Palestinians could slip into civil war.

"It is a pressure-cooker situation," he said. "I think, this is the most dangerous development in Palestinian modern history. If this bout of general fighting continues, it means we will not be worrying about the Palestinian cause, but the Palestinians' social, economic and political fabric will be destroyed. I think, the essence here is to understand that, without reinstating the rule of law, the one authority, the one legal gun we are going to be doomed."

During the past few days, Gazans took advantage of the lull in fighting to return to work and shop for the necessities of life. Life in much of the Gaza Strip had ground to a halt during the past week as gunmen from Fatah and Hamas militias fought pitched battles and seized hostages from each other's communities. It has been the worst outbreak of inter-Palestinian violence since Hamas took control of the Palestinian Authority last year, after winning legislative elections.

Meanwhile Israeli-Palestinian clashes in the West Bank continued. In two separate incidents, Israeli troops shot and killed three Palestinians. Israel says two of them belonged to the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which is one of two groups that claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing Monday in the Israeli resort city of Eilat. The third Palestinian killed was a teenager shot near Israel's separation barrier.

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