GAZA (Reuters) – Rival Palestinian forces clashed in the Gaza Strip on Saturday near the pro-Hamas Islamic University, killing at least two in some of the fiercest infighting since Hamas’s election victory a year ago.
One of the dead was believed to be a university student who was caught in the cross fire, witnesses said. Several people were also injured in the clash.
A member of the Hamas-led police force died of his wounds overnight, hospital officials said, bringing the death toll from Friday’s factional fighting to 16, the highest in a single day.
Hamas spokesman Ayman Taha vowed the group would avenge those killed in the fighting, including local Hamas leader Zuhair al-Mansi, and accused Fatah of mounting a plot, with U.S. backing, to overthrow the Hamas-led government.
He said unity government talks between President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction and Hamas were on hold.
“As long as the leaders of the coup within Fatah are continuing the killings, there can be no dialogue,” Taha said.
Tawfiq Abu Khoussa, a Fatah spokesman, blamed Hamas for starting the latest round of fighting.
“We in Fatah did not stop the dialogue. Those who stopped the dialogue are required to return,” he said.
At least 48 Palestinians have been killed in fighting between Hamas and Fatah since Abbas called last month for new presidential and parliamentary elections, Palestinian hospital officials said.
The United States plans to pour more than $86 million into strengthening Abbas’s presidential guard.
Overnight, Hamas mounted a raid on the Gaza headquarters of the so-called Preventive Security service, a force dominated by Fatah members. Hamas pounded the compound with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades but no injuries were reported.
Rocket-propelled grenades were also fired overnight at the home of Rashid Abu Shbak, an Abbas loyalist in charge of internal security in the Palestinian Authority. It was unclear whether Shbak was home at the time but there were no injuries.
The Gaza home of Mahmoud al-Zahar, the Palestinian Foreign Minister and Hamas leader, was also hit by grenades but no one was injured.
Hamas has said any new elections would amount to a coup. It has struggled to govern since taking office in March under the weight of sanctions imposed because of its refusal to recognize Israel, renounce violence and abide by interim peace deals.
Abbas, a moderate, and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal had pledged a week ago to curb Palestinian bloodshed after inconclusive talks to end their power struggle and form a unity government.
Hamas leaders remained defiant on Friday as they marked the anniversary of the group’s January 25, 2006 election victory over once-dominant Fatah.
Hamas leaders have offered Israel a long-term truce in return for a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, although the Islamist group’s charter calls for the destruction of the Jewish state. Hamas continues to say that it will not formally recognize Israel.