GAZA CITY (AFP) -Rival Palestinian factions have clashed again in Gaza despite agreeing to Saudi-mediated talks to end the worst bout of internecine violence in a year that has left 30 people dead in four days.
Gunbattles between the rival Hamas and Fatah factions raged throughout the night across the impoverished territory, where three people were killed in the southern town of Khan Yunis and two others in Gaza City, medics said.
Early Monday, shooting broke out near the headquarters of a pro-Fatah security force in Gaza City, which has turned into a ghost town as residents cower indoors.
The unprecedented violence, the worst since Hamas’s shock election win a year ago, has torpedoed on-again off-again talks on forming a national unity government and left the Gaza Strip teetering on the brink of civil war.
Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah offered on Sunday to hold talks in the Muslim holy city of Mecca to stop the “disgraceful” fighting, a proposal welcomed by faction leaders.
“I invite my brothers of the Palestinian people, represented by their leaders… to a quick meeting in their brotherly homeland Saudi Arabia … to discuss their differences without any intervention from outside parties,” he said in an appeal carried by the state news agency SPA.
The ruling Hamas movement’s political supremo Khaled Meshaal and the Fatah party leader, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, both welcomed the offer, though no date for the meeting has yet been announced.
Several previous efforts to end the feuding, including a rare meeting between Meshaal and Abbas in Damascus, have proved in vain.
Prime minister Ismail Haniya of Hamas, locked in a bitter power struggle with Abbas, on Sunday urged an end to the conflict, which spilled over into the occupied West Bank.
“We call on all the Palestinian people to protect national unity, to make the language of dialogue and reason prevail, to withdraw weapons from the streets, and put an end to the tensions,” he said.
But the killings and tit-for-tat kidnappings continued in both the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank.
On Sunday, Fatah supporters, many of them masked, set ablaze the Nablus offices of the Hamas-controlled education ministry and kidnapped 11 Hamas members.
Hamas militants also kidnapped the chief of the Palestinian security forces for Gaza, general Shabn Abu Assar, but released him after two hours.
Thirty Palestinians, including young children, have been killed and nearly 100 wounded since late Thursday, according to medics.
Among the victims were an 11-year-old boy snared in the crossfire Saturday night and a two-year-old child killed by a stray bullet during a firefight in Khan Yunis on Friday.
Throughout Gaza, the warring factions have set up roadblocks and continue to trade bursts of machine-gun fire, and anti-rocket and mortar shells. The territory has become deserted as shopkeepers board up shops and stay in the relative safety of their homes.
“This neighbourhood has become a ghost town in a state of war,” said one resident, Jumaa al-Saqqa, a doctor in Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital.
The rival groups are blaming each other for provoking the violence, which is only exacerbating the woes of Palestinians already suffering a crippling economic crisis because of a Western aid freeze.
Hamas’s rise to power after a parliamentary election in January 2006 has pitted the Islamic Resistance Movement against the ousted Fatah party which clung to the presidency in a divided Palestinian government.
Palestinians are struggling to survive under a Western-led aid boycott against a defiant Hamas, which refuses international demands that it recognise Israel, renounce violence, and abide by past peace deals.
The duelling factions have tried for months to work out a power-sharing agreement to draw a line under the violence, but those talks have repeatedly collapsed.