GAZA, (Reuters) – Rival Palestinian factions clashed in the Gaza Strip on Friday, wounding at least six in some of the heaviest internal fighting in weeks, security officials and witnesses said.
The clashes erupted within 48 hours of Palestinian security forces having begun deployment in Gaza under a new security plan.
Palestinians had hoped the deployment would help curb growing lawlessness and ease tensions between ruling Hamas Islamists and President Mahmoud Abbas’s secular Fatah faction.
Hamas said the fighting began before dawn when members of Abbas’s national security forces detained a member of Hamas’s armed wing.
The man was detained because he was suspected of being involved in firing on security forces overnight, according to a source with the national security forces.
Hamas militants responded by storming the facility where the man was being held and freeing him. At least two members of the national security forces were injured, one seriously, in the gun fight.
In other clashes early on Friday, at least one Hamas member was wounded, along with three other people.
Internal fighting decreased after Hamas and Fatah formed a unity government two months ago, but tensions have remained high and a Western aid embargo on the Palestinian Authority remains in place.
A pro-Fatah Web site accused “seekers of bloodshed” within Hamas of starting the latest round of fighting.
A Fatah source accused Hamas militants of briefly seizing 18 members of Fatah-led security services. They were released but Hamas kept the vehicles and arms.
Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas had ordered the deployment of the security forces this week as part of the security plan.
But casting doubt over the effort, Interior Minister Hani al-Qawasmi, an independent with no security background, said he did not order the move and renewed his threat to resign.
Militant groups, including Hamas’s armed wing, urged the security forces not to take any actions against them.
Hamas said the deployment came “suddenly,” and without coordination with militant groups, which launch rockets at Israel and carry out other operations.
Previous police deployments in Gaza have not fully secured the territory, which has sunk further into poverty and political disarray since Israel withdrew troops and settlers in 2005.