17 killed as factional fighting escalates | VailDaily.com

17 killed as factional fighting escalates

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Rival gunmen exchanged fire at two Gaza hospitals on Monday and Cabinet ministers fled their weekly meeting after the government headquarters was caught in the crossfire of a brutal day of infighting that killed 17 Palestinians.The battles came a day after two militants from the rival Hamas and Fatah factions were dragged onto high-rise rooftops and thrown to their death in a power struggle that appears to be rapidly descending into all-out confrontation.After sundown Monday, gunmen, apparently from Hamas, laid siege to the house of Jamal Abu al-Jediyan, the senior Fatah official in northern Gaza. They then dragged him outside and killed him, security officials said. Medics said he was hit by 45 bullets.Al-Jediyan was a top aide to Gaza Fatah strongman Mohammed Dahlan and al-Jediyan’s brother was also killed, apparently in the same shootout.Fatah spokesman Maher Mikdad harshly denounced the killing and threatened revenge.”What is this, if not a war,” he said.Fatah called on its members to target all Hamas political and military leaders.The bloodiest clashes of the day took place in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun. Fatah and Hamas gunmen exchanged fire near Beit Hanoun Hospital, killing a Hamas supporter. The battle then moved to the hospital, where three men from a Fatah-allied clan were shot dead.At Gaza’s largest hospital, Shifa, combatants fired mortars, grenades and assault rifles.Two other Palestinians were killed in battles late Monday night in northern Gaza, security and hospital officials said. Later, Hamas said one of its men, who was kidnapped earlier, was found dead in a Gaza street.Early Tuesday, three women and a child were killed when Hamas militants attacked the home of a senior Fatah security official with mortars and grenades, security officials said. The gunmen seized Hassan Abu Rabie and killed his 14-year-old son and three other women in the house, hospital officials said.Also, Fatah gunmen stormed the house of a Hamas lawmaker and burned it to the ground.In the West Bank city of Nablus, Fatah gunmen kidnapped a Hamas activist and torched the car of a local Hamas politician, Hamas officials said.Monday’s deaths brought to more than 80 the number of Palestinians killed since the latest round of infighting erupted in May. The violence overshadowed attempts to revive Israeli-Palestinian contacts.Appeals for calm by the leaders of the two rival camps, President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, went unheeded. Repeated attempts to secure a cease-fire have failed.Haniyeh himself was apparently the target of an attack early on Monday when militants, apparently from the rival Fatah, fired at his home. No one was reported hurt in the incident.Last week, Abbas called off a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert; aides said he did not want to hold talks unless he could be assured of concrete results.Monday’s fighting marred the first day of matriculation exams for thousands of high school students in Gaza. Gunfire could be heard throughout Gaza City during the day.”This is shameful for our people,” Abbas, a moderate who has repeatedly condemned the violence, said during a visit to a West Bank school. “I call on everyone to stop this immediately, not only because of the examinations, but also for our people to live a normal life.”About 90 minutes into the weekly Cabinet meeting, shots hit the Gaza City building where the ministers had gathered.Mohammed Madhoun, an aide to Haniyeh, said the building was apparently caught in the crossfire between rival Fatah and Hamas forces perched on nearby rooftops.”The ministers are gone and the shooting is indiscriminate,” he said shortly after the incident.Hamas and Fatah have been locked in a violent power struggle since Hamas defeated Fatah in January 2006 legislative elections, ending four decades of Fatah rule.Hamas brought Fatah into its government in March in an effort to quell the internal strife, but the fighting reignited in mid-May over an unresolved dispute over who controls the powerful security forces.The fighting took a grisly turn on Sunday, when Hamas militants kidnapped a member of Abbas’ elite presidential guard, took him to the roof of a 15-story apartment building and threw him to his death.That set off skirmishes throughout the city, including gun battles and shelling. Fatah militants surrounded the house of a Hamas mosque preacher, Mohammed al-Rifati, and killed him.”They came up the stairs and broke open the door,” said the preacher’s 14-year-old son, Hamzeh. “He opened the door. He said, ‘What do you want?’ … They held him and they shot him in the leg. He began screaming and blood was on the floor … They put him on a mattress and took him.”And just before midnight, a Hamas activist was thrown off the 12th floor of a building and killed, security officials said, in an apparent retaliation for the earlier killing of the Fatah man.The deadly infighting has overlapped with new clashes between Israel and Palestinian militants who have been firing rockets at southern Israeli communities bordering Gaza.Early Monday, Palestinian militants fired five rockets into southern Israel, the army said. There were no injuries, but high school students in the battered border town of Sderot were moved to towns out of rocket range to take their final exams.

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