GAZA, (Reuters) – Rival Hamas and Fatah forces clashed in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, killing at least one person and injuring 12 others, in the worst flare-up of factional fighting in almost three weeks.
The fighting spread across the southern Gaza town of Rafah as Hamas and Fatah gunmen set up checkpoints and took up positions on rooftops, two days after President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah said Palestinians were standing on the brink of civil war.
Israel is considering a new request from Fatah to allow shipments of arms and ammunition into Gaza from Egypt and other Arab states, Israeli and Western security sources said. Palestinian officials had no immediate comment.
Fatah said Thursday’s clash in Rafah erupted when gunmen from the Islamist Hamas group confronted one of its local leaders at his home. The man’s brother was killed.
At least 12 other Palestinians were wounded, including at least six from Fatah, four from Hamas and two bystanders, as the fighting spread, Palestinian hospital officials said.
Hamas said its men opened fire after being shot at by Fatah gunmen.
Thursday’s death was the first since an Egyptian-brokered truce took hold in mid-May after the latest wave of factional fighting killed some 50 Palestinians.
An estimated 616 Palestinians have been killed in factional fighting since Hamas defeated Fatah in elections in January 2006, a leading Palestinian rights group said in a report on Wednesday.
Hamas and Fatah accused one another of trying to foil Egypt’s bid for factional calm.
Israel has allowed Abbas’s forces to bring in arms, ammunition and reinforcements from Egypt and other Arab states over the last year.
The Bush administration has asked Israel to permit transfers to bolster Abbas’s forces as a counterweight to Hamas’s dominance in the Gaza Strip.
Some Israeli officials say they fear the weapons will end up in the hands of Hamas and Fatah militants behind attacks on Israel. But Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has generally been supportive of the U.S.-coordinated effort. “This is between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” a senior Western security official said.
U.S. and Israeli security officials say Hamas’s Executive Force and armed wing receive money, weapons and training from Iran and other Islamist allies.
Washington has backed Abbas’s elite Presidential Guard, which was expected on Thursday to graduate another 500 recruits.
Israel’s Ministry of Defence declined to comment on the latest Fatah request for arms.
Abbas and Olmert had been scheduled to meet on Thursday in the West Bank city of Jericho but the summit was called off by the Palestinians.
Palestinian officials said Abbas was seeking firm commitments from Israel that it will release frozen Palestinian funds and take other steps.
Olmert had also signalled he would not accept Abbas’s call for a truce with militants in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. “We are continuing our efforts to conclude the preparations for rescheduling the meeting,” Abbas aide Saeb Erekat said.
Israel stepped up its military operations in Gaza last month in response to a surge in cross-border rocket attacks against Israeli towns. An Israeli army spokesman said at least one rocket was fired into Israel on Thursday but caused no injuries.