Palestinian infighting rages on despite Saudi plea
GAZA, Jan 29 (Reuters) Rival Palestinian factions fought gunbattles in Gaza for a fifth successive day today, killing at least three people despite a Saudi offer to host talks between Hamas and Fatah in the holy city of Mecca.
The fighting has been the fiercest since Hamas, an Islamist group, won elections a year ago. Gunbattles have spread across the densely populated Gaza Strip, where 1.5 million Palestinians live, and have prompted some families to flee their homes.
''What else can we call this but a civil war,'' said Abu Omar, a shop owner in Gaza City, where most businesses closed down.
In the latest bloodshed, a Hamas militant and a policeman loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction were killed in separate gunbattles, hospital and security officials said.
A 20-year-old Palestinian was also shot and killed near the scene of one of the fiercest clashes.
A second Fatah policeman, wounded in fighting over the weekend, died today. A guard from the Hamas-led Interior Ministry was wounded when he was struck in the head by a bullet while driving through Gaza City.
The deaths raised to 30 the number of people killed in clashes since Thursday. The fighting, which has erupted periodically over the past year, has derailed unity talks between Hamas and Fatah.
Yesterday, Saudi Arabia invited the feuding factions for urgent talks in Mecca. Both sides agreed to attend the meeting but no date was set.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas said the goal was to ''prepare the atmosphere'' for further negotiations over a unity government.
Hamas accused Mohammad Dahlan, a Fatah strongman and security adviser to Abbas, of inciting the violence, a charge Fatah rejected.
At least 60 Palestinians have been killed in infighting since Abbas, a moderate, called last month for early presidential and parliamentary elections after inconclusive talks with Hamas. Hamas says the vote would amount to a coup.
Hamas has struggled to govern since taking office in March under the weight of US-backed sanctions imposed over its refusal to recognise Israel, renounce violence and accept existing interim peace deals with the Jewish state.
Despite the Saudi overture, explosions and gunshots continued to echo through Gaza, where gunmen blew up a Fatah office and the home of an official from the group.
Mortar bombs slammed into the headquarters of the Fatah-dominated Preventive Security service in Gaza City. The attacks caused damage but no casualties.
Hamas militants also abducted two Fatah members, including a local commander, Fatah officials said.
In the Israeli Red Sea resort of Eilat, a Palestinian suicide bomber killed three people in a bakery in the first such attack in the Jewish state in nine months.
One of the groups claiming responsibility for the bombing, Islamic Jihad, said it was partly a message to Hamas and Fatah to unite against Israel.
''If Hamas and Fatah don't wake up, they both will lose. They must understand that one cannot wipe out the other and they should reach an agreement to co-exist,'' said Saleh Mohammad, a 40-year-old Gaza teacher. ''What is happening is a real war that serves no one but Israel.'' Reuters SP DB2305