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Fighting Between Rival Palestinian Factions Continues in Gaza

03 February 2007

Fierce fighting between rival Palestinian factions is continuing in the Gaza Strip. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, at least 23 Palestinians have been killed since Thursday.

Gunmen from the ruling Islamic militant group Hamas and the rival Fatah faction fought street battles across Gaza, at government offices, universities and security headquarters. Fatah militiamen stormed the Hamas-led Agriculture Ministry in Gaza City, ransacking offices and stealing computers and documents.

In the southern town of Rafah, Hamas militants fired rocket-propelled grenades at the Fatah-affiliated Al-Quds University, and set the student council building on fire.

Shops, schools and businesses are closed, and terrified Palestinian civilians are hunkering down in their homes.

This resident, who spoke on Israel Television, blamed the government for the breakdown in law and order, and demanded security for the people.

The warring sides agreed to a new ceasefire in a bid to end the bloodshed, but previous ones have quickly collapsed. Moderate Palestinian President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas appealed for calm.

"I call on all parties in Gaza to stop these actions that harm the Palestinian people," he said.

Mr. Abbas, who seeks to revive peace talks with Israel, is locked in a violent power struggle with Hamas, a group that seeks the destruction of the Jewish state. Hamas has been crippled by western sanctions, and Mr. Abbas wants to establish a more moderate national unity government that would be acceptable to the international community.

Saudi Arabia is trying to arrange a summit meeting next week in the Muslim holy city of Mecca between Mr. Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal. They would discuss a ceasefire and resuming talks on a unity government, in which Hamas and Fatah would share power.

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