GAZA,(Reuters) – Unidentified gunmen killed three sons of a Palestinian intelligence official loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas in Gaza on Monday, firing at a car as it dropped the boys at school, police and hospital officials said.
An adult bystander was also killed in the attack in Gaza City, which came amid growing tension between Hamas, the governing militant group, and Abbas’s more moderate Fatah.
Angry mourners firing automatic weapons later stormed into the parliament compound during a funeral for the boys, who were aged between 6 and 9. There were no reports of injuries.
Some 2,000 people took part in the funeral, including the boys’ father, Colonel Baha Balousha, who was heavily guarded. Relatives carried his three sons in their arms. The bodies were wrapped in white sheets.
Balousha, who was not in the car when it was attacked, is a senior intelligence official close to Abbas. Gunmen tried to kill him in Gaza in September, one of several attacks on intelligence officials loyal to Abbas in the strip this year. Abbas called the shooting “a condemned, ugly and inhumane crime, carried out by a bunch of bastards.” He and Palestinian Prime Minister and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, who arrived in Sudan on Monday, said they had urged the interior minister to take all measures to find the perpetrators.
The car taking the children to school was peppered with bullet holes and blood stains covered the seats. Two school bags, one green and the other blue, lay inside.
Several other schools line the street, which was crowded with children at the time of the shooting.
Residents said the gunmen fled with Hamas policemen in pursuit. Hospital officials said the dead bystander was a 25-year-old man. Police said two other children were wounded.
A senior Palestinian intelligence official in the occupied West Bank said it was unclear who was behind the attack.
Besides internal political unrest, Gaza is riven with clan fighting and a surge in crime following a Western aid embargo on the Hamas government that has deepened poverty. “The killers knew Baha was not in the car because he never drove his children to school. They couldn’t get to him to kill him, so they killed his children instead,” the official said.
Political tension has been rising over the failure of Hamas and the formerly dominant Fatah movement to form a unity government that Palestinians hope might end the Western boycott.
On Sunday, gunmen fired at the convoy of Interior Minister Saeed Seyam in Gaza. Seyam, a senior Hamas leader, was unharmed.
Abbas aides said on Saturday the president planned to call early elections after talks on a unity government foundered.
Haniyeh accused Abbas of trying to topple his government, which came to power after winning elections in January, and said fresh elections would only worsen unrest. He also told satellite channel Arabiya that he had secured $250 million in extra funding for his impoverished government next year, following a visit to Iran.
Unity talks broke down over Hamas’s rejection of Western demands that it recognise Israel, and its insistence on holding the interior and finance portfolios in a new government.
Abbas, a moderate who favours peace negotiations with Israel, was elected separately in early 2005.