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Hamas-Fatah tensions flare again in Gaza

Written by: Staff

GAZA, Apr 23 (Reuters) Tensions between the Hamas-led government and President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction flared into a shootout at the Palestinian Health Ministry today, despite pledges to calm an eruption of internal fighting.

At least four people were wounded after gunmen from Fatah's al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades stormed into the ministry, where they were confronted by Hamas guards, Health Ministry officials said.

An al-Aqsa spokesman denied the men were from his faction, saying they were from a Gaza clan affiliated with Fatah.

The guards from Hamas's Izz el-Deen al-Qassam brigades chased off most of the Fatah intruders and captured four of the gunmen, tying them up and putting them into a police car as people in the street cheered, witnesses said.

''The time has passed when our institutions and our police can be attacked. Whoever holds a gun against one of our institutions, or one of our policemen, opens himself for death,'' said Khaled Abu Hillel, spokesman for the Interior Ministry.

About 20 people were hurt in armed confrontations in Gaza yesterday between students and militants from the two rival movements. It was the most serious fighting between Palestinians since Hamas won a parliamentary election in January.

The violence followed the condemnation by exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal of Abbas's veto of a new Gaza security force formed by the Islamic group and headed by a top militant.

The appointment of Jamal Abu Samhadana, head of the Popular Resistance Committees which has often attacked Israel, as leader of the new Gaza police force was widely seen as an attempt by Hamas to strengthen its grip on the powerful Interior Ministry.

Abbas cancelled the decision, a veto Meshaal said assisted a Western campaign to isolate the Palestinian government.

Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, in an audiotape aired today, said Western efforts to isolate Hamas, was an example of the West's ''crusader war'' against Islam.

''This is a crusader-Zionist war,'' said the speaker who sounded like the Saudi-born militant in the tape aired on Al Jazeera television.

Egyptian officials yesterday tried to mediate an end to Hamas-Fatah violence.

''The two parties have agreed to call on our people to stop all forms of tension and to cement national unity,'' Fatah spokesman Mahar Meqdad said after a meeting between the groups.

Hamas and Fatah officials did not elaborate on what practical steps would be taken on the ground to stop bloodshed.

JENIN MARCH In a show of force today , hundreds of armed Palestinian security men in uniform marched through the town of Jenin in the occupied West Bank in support of Abbas and Fatah.

Meshaal said after yesterday violence that Hamas respected Abbas's authority and called for Palestinian unity.

The Interior Ministry said the new Gaza force would work from within the existing security establishment, headed mainly by Fatah loyalists. But Abbas's aides said only the Palestinian president could make decisions regarding the government.

The Gaza Strip has seen growing lawlessness in recent years among members of rival armed groups. Hamas and Fatah, however, had rarely engaged in violent confrontations.

Sworn to Israel's destruction, Hamas has rejected Abbas's calls to pursue a negotiated peace with the Jewish state.

Hamas has carried out nearly 60 suicide bombings against Israelis since a Palestinian uprising began in 2000. But it has largely abided by a truce since last year.

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