GAZA CITY (AFP) – At least 16 Palestinians were wounded in clashes on Saturday in Gaza City between militants of Hamas and the Fatah faction loyal to president Mahmud Abbas, a Palestinian medical official said.
Shooting between the rival factions broke out as Hamas security forces tried to arrest suspects behind a July 25 deadly attack that killed five Hamas militants and a little girl, the official said.
“Sixteen Palestinians were wounded this morning in an exchange of fire as Hamas tried to arrest those allegedly behind the bomb attack,” Muawiya Hassanein, the head of Gaza emergency services, told AFP.
According to Hassanein, the fighting broke out at a house belonging to the influential pro-Fatah Helis clan in the Shujwa neighbourhood of Gaza.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zohri told AFP members of the Helis family and other unidentified associates had “fired mortar rounds at the Hamas police as well as a rocket at Gaza City” from inside the house in Shujwa.
“Luckily there were no casualties,” said Abu Zohri.
Several members of the Helis clan “are responsible” for last week’s attack that killed five members of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ armed branch, and a five-year-old girl, he said.
“There have been several arrests and there will be many more. We have asked the police to be firm,” Abu Zohri said.
Clan leader Ahmad Helis meanwhile told AFP that Hamas militants “laid siege to our house, firing mortar rounds… targeting our women and our children.”
“We will not surrender. We will defend ourselves,” said Helis.
Hamas has accused Fatah of being responsible for last week’s deadly attack but the group denied any involvement.
After the attacks the rival groups carried out a tit-for-tat campaign of arrests, with Hamas detaining more than 300 people, mostly Fatah members.
Fatah has responded by arresting Hamas militants in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
The two main Palestinian factions have been deeply divided since Hamas expelled Abbas’s security forces from Gaza in a week of bloody street battles in June 2007, cleaving the territories into rival entities.