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New factional fighting kills at least 14 in Gaza Strip, marring Hamas celebration

New factional fighting kills at least 14 in Gaza Strip, marring Hamas celebration

Hamas gunmen stormed the home of a militant from the rival Fatah movement late Friday, witnesses said, sparking a deadly gunbattle and capping a day of factional violence that killed at least 14 people, including a 2-year-old boy, across the Gaza Strip.
Friday's violence was among the deadliest in nearly two months of infighting and marred the first anniversary of Hamas' upset victory in Palestinian elections. After nightfall, the fighting showed no signs of slowing, as the sound of gunfire echoed throughout Gaza City.
The heaviest shooting was concentrated around the home of Mansour Shaleil, a local Fatah leader in the Jebaliya refugee camp just north of Gaza City.
Hamas gunmen surrounded the home early Friday to arrest Shaleil, accusing him of involvement in a shooting that killed two Hamas supporters earlier in the day.
The standoff lasted for hours, and late Friday, dozens of Hamas gunmen stormed the house and exchanged fire with Shaleil and his loyalists, according to witnesses and ambulance drivers. Ambulance drivers said two bodies were removed from the area. Shaleil's fate was not immediately clear.
Fatah gunmen, meanwhile, kidnapped 19 Hamas militants and threatened to kill them if Shaleil was harmed, officials on both sides said.
In a similar incident early this month, Hamas gunmen stormed the home of a top Fatah security commander in northern Gaza, killing the man and seven bodyguards.
"Hamas death squads are repeating the same scenario," said Maher Mekdad, a Fatah spokesman. "It looks like they forgot who the enemy is. They forgot the Israeli occupation."
During the day, fighting also spread to the headquarters of the pro-Fatah Preventive Security agency in Gaza City. A total of four Hamas gunmen were killed in a battle outside a nearby mosque. Hamas accused Fatah gunmen of starting the battle and wounding several worshippers in a drive-by attack. Mortar shells and rocket-propelled grenades were fired during the melee, smashing windows on several nearby homes.
In other incidents, fighting erupted outside the residences of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah and Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar, a top Hamas leader. Hamas officials said Zahar's home was damaged by two rocket propelled grenades.
Hundreds of security forces loyal to Abbas were sent into the streets to protect his compound and various security installations.
In all, 14 people were killed throughout Gaza, medical officials said. In one incident, a 2-year-old boy was fatally shot while traveling in a car in the southern town of Khan Younis, hospital officials said. Hamas and Fatah officials accused each other of firing the deadly shot.
Tensions have been high since Hamas swept parliamentary elections in January 2006, ending four decades of Fatah rule. Those tensions have frequently erupted into violence, killing some 15 people in Gaza since early December.
Hamas had originally planned victory rallies across the West Bank and Gaza, with the main event set for Gaza City, Hamas' stronghold. But organizers decided to move the main rally to the Jebaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza after a Hamas activist was killed there Thursday night.
Haniyeh bowed out of a planned appearance at the rally, apparently fearing it would be too dangerous to travel there. In the end, only several thousand Hamas supporters attended the Jebaliya celebration.
Hamas trounced Fatah in last year's election, promising to root out corruption and improve social services. But the Hamas-led government has been paralyzed by an international boycott and accomplished little on its agenda.
Israel and Western donors have cut off hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to the Palestinian government, demanding Hamas renounce violence and recognize Israel's right to exist. Hamas has rejected the conditions, despite deepening poverty in the West Bank and Gaza caused by the sanctions.
In Gaza City, Haniyeh said it has been a "year full of events" and spoke proudly of the Palestinians' refusal to succumb to the international boycott.
"The siege has become ineffective," told reporters after praying in a mosque. "The Palestinian people were patient and steadfast in the face of this siege, as was their government, and we have not offered any concessions."
Seeking a way out of the crisis, Abbas has called on Hamas to join Fatah in a moderate coalition government. Abbas, who was elected separately, hopes a moderate platform will get the sanctions lifted and allow him to restart peace talks with Israel.
So far, the talks have not produced an agreement, and Abbas has threatened to break the deadlock by ordering early elections. Hamas has said it would boycott a new vote.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Abbas on Friday said he would give the unity talks no more than three weeks, and indicated he would order new elections if the efforts fail. "I would say we're at a juncture ... I think it will take two weeks, maximum three weeks," he said.
Abbas' threat to call new elections, along with the continued deadlock in unity talks, has fueled the latest factional violence in Gaza.


Updated : 2021-06-13 13:14 GMT+08:00