11 dead as Hamas-Fateh truce collapses in Gaza factional violence

1129.jpgGAZA CITY (AFP) — Renewed Palestinian factional fighting killed 11 people on Monday in Gaza, where gunmen fired on government offices forcing ministers to interrupt a Cabinet meeting.The latest deaths bring to 17 the number of people killed in the lawless territory since a new bout of internecine bloodshed between Islamist Hamas and secular Fateh erupted on Thursday.

Witnesses said gunmen on the rooftop of an adjacent building fired on government offices as Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas chaired the weekly cabinet meeting, forcing the ministers to flee the premises but without causing casualties.

“The prime minister interrupted the meeting and left the premises with the rest of the ministers,” an official at Haniyeh’s office told AFP, accusing fighters from rival Fateh of being behind the attack.

In other violence Monday, three civilians — a 65-year-old man and two of his sons — were killed in gunbattles between Hamas and Fateh in the northern town of Beit Hanoun.

A Hamas man and a member of Fateh also died in the fighting.

A 20-year-old man was killed by gunfire in northern Gaza but his identity was not immediately known, said medics, who also reported two Palestinians killed in Gaza City, including a member of Fateh who was abducted by Hamas activists, according to his movement.

A Hamas member also died in Gaza City.

Elsewhere, Jamal Abu Jadian, a head for northern Gaza of Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, loosely affiliated to Fateh, was also killed late Monday, security officials said. He fought a gunbattle with Hamas fighters near his home before taking shelter in a nearby house in Beit Lahiya, witnesses said. Abu Jadian’s refuge was attacked and his body was riddled with 40 bullets, a medic said.

Several of his family members were wounded.

Before dawn, a bullet-riddled body of a Fateh member was found on a Gaza City street, his legs tied, in what a spokesman for Fateh said was an “execution” by Hamas men.

The gunbattles and shootings were the latest breach of the newest truce agreed by the two rivals with Egyptian mediators, who for months have been trying to calm increasingly violent tensions between the two sides.

In a grim warning that the violence could spiral further, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said his movement “has decided to punish all the murderers and criminals” after having given the latest ceasefire a chance.

“Killing them is the only dissuasive response,” he said, adding that the office of sports and youth minister Bassem Naim, of Hamas, also came under fire.

More than 160 people have been killed since the first major bout of violence erupted in December.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas earlier called for an end to the bloodshed after warning last week that the strife had left Palestinians on the brink of a civil war and was as damaging, if not more so, than the 40-year Israeli occupation.

“What’s happening in Gaza is regrettable and very harming. Both parties are working seriously with the Egyptian brothers to put an end to it,” Abbas told reporters in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank.

The factional fighting in one of the world’s most densely populated areas, along with renewed Israeli attacks in response to rockets, have threatened to sink international efforts to jumpstart the dormant Middle East peace process.

The violence has rattled the unity government that the two parties formed in March with the hope that it would halt the bloodshed and pave the way for an end to a crippling Western aid boycott.

Gaza fighters on Monday launched a fresh volley of rockets into Israel, without causing injuries, nearly a month after the Jewish state resumed deadly air and ground operations on the territory in response to the fire.

Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday vowed to keep hitting Gaza, a day after fighters carried out the first cross-border raid into Israeli territory in nearly a year, which left one fighter dead.

Israeli strikes have killed 16 civilians and 39 fighters since being resumed on May 16 following a sharp increase in rocket fire.

Two Israeli civilians have been killed and more than 20 people wounded by the more than 310 projectiles launched into the Jewish state since May 15, the army said.

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