GAZA, (Reuters) – Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh called on rival Palestinian factions to end violence on Friday as gunmen loyal to his Islamist Hamas movement clashed with Fatah fighters on the streets of the Gaza Strip.
Fighting between the Hamas and President Mahmoud Abbas’s secular Fatah group has already abated since a flare-up on Thursday killed at least one Palestinian and wounded 12 others.
The once dominant Fatah entered a unity government in March with Hamas, victors in a parliamentary election 18 months ago, in an effort to end internal faction fighting and to help ease international sanctions imposed after Hamas took power. So far, the coalition government has failed to achieve either goal. “We are not in need of more new agreements, but we are in need of a political will to implement the existing agreements,” Haniyeh said before Friday prayers at mosque in north Gaza.
Haniyeh appeared to blame Fatah for recent attacks that have escalated violence: “There are parties who do not want stability in the Palestinian internal situation. Some parties want to foil the government of national unity,” he said.
Haniyeh also rejected aid coming from foreign countries, including several Arab states, that he said would strengthen Fatah. Israel has allowed Abbas’s forces to bring in arms, ammunition and reinforcements from Egypt and other Arab states over the last year.
Israeli defence officials are considering Fatah’s latest request for arms. The Bush administration has asked Israel to permit transfers to bolster Fatah as a counterweight to Hamas’s dominance in the Gaza Strip.
Abbas said this week that internal strife, which killed about 50 people in the Gaza last month, risked spilling over into full-blown civil war.
Friday’s clashes began after gunmen fired at a group of Hamas militants deployed east of Gaza City, witnesses said. The Hamas militants later attacked a house where they suspected Fatah gunmen were gathered.
One member of Abbas’s Presidential Guard was abducted overnight in Gaza, a Fatah security source said. Hamas said one of its supporters was shot by a Fatah security officer. Both groups warned of further violence.
An estimated 616 Palestinians have been killed in factional fighting since Hamas defeated Fatah in parliamentary elections in January 2006, a leading Palestinian rights group said on Wednesday.