GAZA (Reuters) – A pro-al Qaeda militant and four other Palestinians were killed on Tuesday in fierce overnight gunbattles in the Gaza Strip, Hamas officials said.
The fighting involving Islamist Hamas security forces and mostly members of the Doghmosh clan was the worst among Palestinians in the coastal territory since clashes in July in which more than a dozen died.
Hamas forces, responding to the killing of one of their policemen during an arrest raid on Monday, raided a clan stronghold in Gaza City before dawn on Tuesday in search of suspects, officials said.
Four clan members were killed in ensuing clashes that went on for hours and continued into Tuesday morning, while others were placed under arrest, Hamas officials said. The sounds of gunfire and explosions echoed through the city.
Three of those killed were gunmen, officials said. A Hamas source said one was a member of the Army of Islam, a pro-al Qaeda group. A medic said a fourth victim was unarmed. A Hamas policeman was also shot dead in the fighting, an official said.
The Army of Islam was involved in the March 2007 abduction of BBC reporter Alan Johnston, who was held hostage for four months before being released, and the 2006 capture of an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who is still being held.
Others in the clan are divided between supporters of Islamist Hamas and those who back Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement, whose fighters were defeated when Hamas seized control of Gaza last year.
The Hamas-controlled interior ministry said in a statement its security forces resorted to force against “fugitives,” including the Doghmosh clan only “after exhausting all peaceful efforts” to arrest suspects.
Police said they seized explosives and weapons during the raid.