Palestinian fighting ‘will burn all of us,’ official says

1152.jpgGAZA CITY (CNN) — Rival factions killed more than two dozen people Tuesday in bitter fighting that has left Gaza sliding into chaos, Palestinian officials said.As Fatah radio called on fighters to confront Hamas militants and broadcasts from Hamas fighters urged their Fatah foes to abandon their posts or face death, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas appealed in vain for a cease-fire.

“If anybody thinks that we will be a winner out of this fire, I think they’re wrong,” said Palestinian official Saeb Erakat. “If this fire continues, it will burn all of us. Nobody stands to gain anything.”

Abbas’ Fatah group dominated Palestinian politics for decades until last year, when Hamas won legislative elections.

Erakat — an Abbas ally– called this week’s clashes “the worst I have ever seen.”

Hundreds of Hamas gunmen surrounded a Fatah base in northern Gaza near the Jabalya refugee camp and launched an attack, Palestinian security sources said.

The commander of the Hamas’ Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades was killed in the fighting, the sources said.

Palestinian medical sources said Tuesday 10 members of the Fatah-affiliated National Guard and 11 Hamas gunmen were killed. More than 80 people have died in factional fighting since the latest flare-up began last month

Four other Palestinians died in Tuesday morning clashes in Gaza City and Khan Younis, medical sources said.

Prime minister’s house attacked again

The home of Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, a Hamas member, came under attack Tuesday for the second day, the Hamas media office reported.

Earlier, Hamas gunmen killed Jamal al-Jediyan, the head of Fatah in northern Gaza, Fatah sources said. His brother and cousin also died in the attack.

Later in the morning, Hamas gunmen surrounded the home of Fatah spokesman Maher Mekdad. His fate was not immediately known.

Erakat said there are “multiple authorities” in Gaza, making it extremely difficult to control the fighters.

“I don’t think we have an authority even there — we’re not independent, we’re under occupation, we cannot even breathe in Gaza,” he said.

Erakat said the two sides are not fighting over “who controls what” but about trying to restore the rule of law to Gaza.

“I believe it’s a vested interest for all of us as Palestinians at this critical juncture of our history to stand firm and to stand tall and extinguish the fire,” he said. “If we don’t do that, we’re all doomed.”

West Bank caught up in violence

The factional fighting also spilled into the West Bank, where the Palestinian government is based. Fatah gunmen kidnapped a Hamas government worker from his office in Ramallah, Palestinian security sources said. His fate is also unclear.

Palestinian media in Gaza and the West Bank were also targets.

Hamas fighters destroyed the equipment at a Fatah-controlled TV station in Gaza City, according to CNN’s Talal Abu-Rahman, who witnessed the incident.

In Ramallah, Fatah-affiliated presidential security guards arrested three journalists working for the Hamas-run al-Aqsa TV station, a witness said. Their camera was confiscated, the witness said.

Also Tuesday, the house of Nabil Shaath, a well-known Fatah official, was attacked, and one of his bodyguards was shot, Palestinian security sources said.

Security sources told WAFA news agency that hundreds of Hamas-allied gunmen surrounded Shaath’s house before forcefully entering it and destroying everything inside.

In an effort to allow Palestinian high school and college students to take their final exams Tuesday, a truce was brokered on Monday, but it never took effect.

Tuesday’s fighting has prevented most of the 77,000 students from attending class.

Cease-fires declared and ignored

Since the latest fighting broke out in mid-May, Hamas and Fatah leaders — under the mediation of Egypt — have repeatedly issued cease-fires.

But none of those truces has lasted for more than a few days, and Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi said the Palestinians “are entering a slippery slope of a civil war.”

At issue, she said, is the shape a future Palestinian state will take — “whether we’re going to have a Palestinian state that is a national secular state; or is this going to become an Islamic state with a more closed ideological society.”

But she said the battle is currently over “minuscule spoils.”

“Unfortunately, unless there are clear decisive decisions to impose the rule of law and to hold people accountable for taking the law into their own hands, the situation is liable to escalate,” said Ashrawi, a former Fatah Cabinet minister.

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