Pro-al Qaeda gunman among 11 dead in Gaza clash

GAZA (Reuters) – Eleven Palestinians including a pro-al Qaeda militant and a child were killed on Tuesday in overnight gun battles in the Gaza Strip, Hamas police officials said.

The fighting involving Islamist Hamas security forces and mostly members of the militant Doghmosh clan was the worst among Palestinians in the coastal territory since clashes in July in which more than a dozen died.

Hamas forces, responding to the killing of one of their policemen during an arrest operation on Monday, raided a clan stronghold in Gaza City before dawn on Tuesday in search of suspects, officials said.

Nine clan gunmen and a girl toddler were killed in a gun battle that went on for hours, while others were arrested, Hamas officials and medics said. A Hamas policeman also died and 40 people were wounded, they added.

One of the gunmen killed was a member of the Army of Islam, a pro-al Qaeda group, a Hamas source said.

The Army of Islam was involved in the March 2007 abduction of BBC reporter Alan Johnston, who was held hostage for four months before being released, and the 2006 capture of an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who is still being held.

Others in the clan are divided between supporters of Islamist Hamas and those who back Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement, whose fighters were defeated when Hamas seized control of Gaza last year.

The Hamas-controlled interior ministry said in a statement its security forces resorted to force against “fugitives”, including the Doghmosh clan, only “after exhausting all peaceful efforts” to arrest suspects.

Islam Shahwan, a spokesman for Hamas police, said the policeman killed was shot by a sniper and that three of the clan members killed were wanted gunmen. Police said they also seized explosives and weapons during the raid.

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