GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip, (AP) – Gunfights between Hamas and Fatah gunmen erupted across the Gaza Strip on Thursday, killing four people, wounding several others and effectively destroying a three-day truce that brought a brief period of quiet to the volatile area.
Hamas militants fired mortar shells near Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ residence in Gaza City and nearby street battles sent residents fleeing in terror. Some left their cars idling while they sought shelter.
Masked gunmen took up positions on rooftops, while others took cover in alleyways below. Abbas was not in Gaza at the time.
The violence broke out in the central Gaza town of Bureij after Hamas militants hijacked a convoy delivering supplies to the Fatah-allied security forces, security officials said. Security reinforcements were seen flooding into the town.
Soon after, separate gunbattles broke out in Gaza City and in northern Gaza outside a military intelligence post. Security officials said Hamas militants fired a rocket at the post and then sacked it, injuring five members of the security forces. At least two Hamas supporters were wounded, Hamas said.
A Fatah member was kidnapped in northern Gaza during the clashes, and one security officer was wounded, security officials said.
Meanwhile, Israeli troops killed four Palestinians and wounded a fifth in violence in the West Bank and along Israel’s frontier with Gaza.
In Gaza, unknown gunmen opened fire early Thursday at Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum as he drove with three bodyguards in his white sedan toward an impromptu checkpoint near Gaza City, Hamas said. There were no casualties. A Hamas announcement blamed “coup-seekers,” meaning militants from the rival Fatah party.
“This is a violation of the (truce) agreement,” Barhoum said. He reported the incident to Egyptian mediators and the gunmen removed their checkpoint, he said.
Later Thursday, gunmen in a car shot at Islam Shahwan, a spokesman for a Hamas militia, Shahwan said, blaming the shooting on Fatah-affiliated security officers. One Hamas member was wounded, he said.
Other sporadic shooting attacks were reported Thursday, including one that wounded a Hamas militant.
The early incidents didn’t unravel the cease-fire, but on Thursday afternoon, Hamas gunmen ambushed an official convoy guarded by the presidential guard and hijacked two trucks filled with tents, medical kits and toilets, security officials said. The United States and some Arab countries had pledged to give equipment and training to the security forces loyal to Abbas.
The attack sparked the new fighting, which killed four people in Bureij, including a security officer, hospital officials said.
“How can they attack the presidential guards like that when there is a cease-fire?” said Wael Dahab, a presidential guard spokesman.
In the wake of the fighting, security officials re-established roadblocks near Abbas’ official residence in Gaza City. Masked security officers took up positions in the streets.
Masked Hamas gunmen also carjacked a police jeep near the U.N. headquarters in Gaza City, stealing the weapons of those in the vehicle, security officials said.
The truce was declared early Tuesday by leaders of Fatah and Hamas and was meant to bring an end to internal fighting that has left more than 60 Palestinians dead since early December, though it did not resolve the underlying animosity between the groups.
The Islamic Hamas ousted Abbas’ Fatah from power in an election a year ago, but Fatah retains control of most of the security forces.
On Wednesday, armed militias returned to their bases and police took their places, although some streets were still off limits to civilians.
Gazans strolled the streets and went about their errands in leisurely fashion Wednesday, enjoying the lull. Mahmoud Dahdouh, 17, hoped business at his vegetable stand would return to normal after the end of the street fighting. “People came here, and then shooting would start and they fled before they bought anything,” he said, unloading a shipment of vegetables.
Many thought both Fatah and Hamas were harmed by the fighting. “Blood had to be shed for one to be on top,” said Khaled Zeidan, a 40-year old engineer, who lives in an area hard hit by fighting, “but they are both losing.”
Both sides said that all the fighters kidnapped during the clashes had been freed.
Previous truce deals between Hamas and Fatah militants in Gaza have quickly collapsed into new waves of fighting.
Abbas, elected separately two years ago, has urged Hamas, which faces international isolation because of its anti-Israel ideology, to join Fatah in a more moderate government. He hopes a softer platform will help end a crippling international aid boycott imposed after the Hamas victory and allow him to resume peace talks with Israel.
Hamas-Fatah coalition talks have broken down and appear unlikely to resume soon, though both Saudi Arabia and Egypt have offered to mediate.
In the West Bank town of Tulkarem, Israeli troops seeking to arrest a wanted Palestinian militant shot and killed him when he tried to flee, the army said, adding that the man, a Fatah member, ignored soldiers’ orders to halt and warning shots. A second wanted man was wounded and taken into custody, the army said.
Earlier, in the city of Nablus, troops killed two Palestinian gunmen, hospital officials and local militants said. A gunfight broke out when an Israeli military force entered the city on a pre-dawn raid, and two militants from the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, a violent offshoot of Fatah, were killed, the officials said.
Israeli troops also shot and killed a Palestinian teenager along Israel’s West Bank separation barrier near the city of Ramallah. The army said it shot the Palestinian in the legs when he tried to cut the fence. Palestinian health officials said the 17-year-old’s artery was severed and he bled to death.
Also Thursday, troops shot and wounded a 35-year-old Palestinian farmer along the fence separating Gaza from Israel.
The army said the man was sabotaging the border fence and its troops fired at his legs after he ignored calls to leave. The man was shot twice and taken to the hospital in moderate condition, according to Dr. Muawiya Hassanin of the Palestinian Health Ministry.