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Violence Between Hamas, Fatah Factions Threatens Gaza Truce

01 February 2007

At least four Palestinians were killed Thursday in the Gaza Strip, as violent clashes erupted between the Hamas and Fatah factions. The clashes took place just three days after a truce went into effect between the two factions. VOA's Jim Teeple reports from Jerusalem, there was also violence in the West Bank, where four Palestinians were killed by Israeli troops.

Clashes began early Thursday, and, by nightfall, there were gunfights reported all over Gaza, as Hamas and Fatah resumed their deadly rivalry.

Heavy fighting began when Hamas militants ambushed a four-truck convoy they say was carrying weapons to the Fatah security force of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Hamas militants also lobbed mortar shells toward Mr. Abbas' Gaza residence, which sparked more fighting. A Fatah military post was attacked by Hamas and destroyed in Gaza City. Earlier in the day, a Hamas spokesman was attacked as he drove to work.

On Tuesday, both sides said they would honor an Egyptian-brokered truce to end a week of heavy fighting that had left more than 30 people dead. Both sides also said they supported an effort by Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah to find a long-term solution to the power struggle between Fatah and Hamas.

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator in talks with Israelis, says the violence must be contained, or Palestinians could slip into civil war.

He said, "It is a pressure-cooker situation. 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 [one Palestinian security service], we are going to be doomed," he continued.

Since Tuesday, Gazans took advantage of the lull in fighting to return to work and shop for daily necessities. 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. Israeli troops shot and killed two militants they say 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.

Israel troops also shot and killed a man they say was evading arrest in the West Bank. Additionally, a Palestinian teenager was shot and killed near Israel's separation barrier. Israeli troops also shot and wounded a Palestinian man early Thursday near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip.

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