GAZA (Reuters) -Palestinian gunmen fired on Tuesday at the prime minister’s home and the president’s office in a surge of fighting by the two leaders’ rival factions that has killed at least 20 people and brought civil war closer.
The gunmen opened fire on buildings of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, a Hamas leader, and President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah on the fourth day of gunbattles in Gaza, but no one was hurt.
The attacks followed fighting on Monday in which at least 14 people were killed. The bloodshed included a shootout in a hospital and what medics called an execution-style slaying of a Fatah field commander who was dragged from his besieged home.
The battles reflect a raging power struggle between Islamist Hamas and secular Fatah, partners in a three-month-old unity government.
“The government will remain, but it does not govern. It will be there, (but) it is incapable of doing its job. The situation will be completely paralyzed,” said Palestinian analyst Ali al-Jarbawi.
In a new twist, and evoking a measure Israel uses to cordon off Palestinian areas during operations against militants, Hamas’s armed wing declared the central Gaza Strip, where six people were wounded in a clashes, a “closed military zone.”
“Stay at home and you will be safe,” Hamas’s Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades warned Fatah fighters in an announcement over a radio station, in a bid to prevent the rival faction from rushing reinforcements to battle scenes.
A witness said Hamas gunmen intercepted three vehicles loaded with Fatah security men in Nusseirat refugee camp and took them away. In Khan Younis, a town in the central Gaza Strip, Hamas fighters seized the governate office.
In fresh violence, gunmen fired a rocket-propelled grenade at Haniyeh’s Gaza residence, damaging the building, officials said. On Monday, shots were fired at his office, interrupting a cabinet meeting but causing no casualties.
“Thank God there are no injuries,” said Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, confirming that Haniyeh was inside at the time of the new attack and blaming Fatah.
An officer with Abbas’s presidential guard said several mortar bombs struck the president’s compound in Gaza City earlier. No one was hurt.
At least 20 Palestinians have been killed since the latest round of bloodshed began on Saturday. Some 630 Palestinians have died in internal strife since Hamas came to power in 2006.
The escalating internal violence has been accompanied by a sharp falloff in Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza on southern Israel. But several rockets hit the Israeli town of Sderot on Tuesday, slightly wounding three people.
The Islamic Jihad group claimed responsibility for the attack, which drew an Israeli air strike against what the Israeli military described as a rocket launching site in the northern Gaza Strip.
In other violence, gunmen abducted and then killed a member of Hamas’s armed wing. The Qassam brigades said Fatah shot the man, a nephew of Abdel Aziz-Rantissi, a Hamas leader assassinated by Israel in 2004.
It also accused Fatah of seizing a doctor, and threatened to execute the faction’s leaders if he was killed. Fatah had no comment on the attacks and accusations.