GAZA CITY - Deadly clashes erupted yesterday between rival factions in the Gaza Strip for the first time in more than a month, despite a conciliatory speech toward Hamas by Fatah's leader, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority.
At least four Palestinians were killed, and medics said at least 60 were injured.
The sudden spike in Palestinian tensions came just a week before a planned visit to the Mideast by President Bush, who will try to prod Israel and the Palestinians closer to peace. Internal Palestinian violence could make it difficult for Abbas to concentrate on talks with Israel.
Fireworks lit the skies of Gaza after nightfall yesterday, and Fatah supporters fired rifles in the air along the coastal strip to celebrate the 43d anniversary of the founding of their movement. They defied a ban on celebrations by the Islamic Hamas rulers.
In the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis, clashes erupted between Fatah supporters and Hamas security forces. Medics said two Hamas police officers and a Fatah backer were killed. Another person was killed in Gaza City.
Hamas said the two officers were shot by Fatah gunmen on rooftops. Fatah said Hamas forces raided houses and arrested dozens of Fatah members.
Yesterday's fatalities were the first from Palestinian infighting since Nov. 11, when Hamas forces fired on a huge Fatah rally in Gaza City, killing eight people and wounding 85. That rally was the biggest show of Fatah strength since Hamas seized control of Gaza in June after defeating forces loyal to Abbas.
After the Hamas takeover of Gaza, Abbas expelled Hamas from the Palestinian government and named his own, which holds sway only in the West Bank. Western nations restored aid to Abbas and encouraged renewed peace talks with Israel.
At a conference last month in Annapolis, Md., sponsored by Bush, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel and Abbas pledged to restart negotiations and aim for a peace treaty in 2008. Hamas was excluded from the conference.
In a speech to mark the Fatah anniversary, Abbas offered yesterday to talk with Hamas. "There is no way for any party here to be an alternative to the other, and there is no room for terms like coup or military takeover, but only for dialogue, dialogue, dialogue," he said.
The Palestinian president called for "a new page, writing in its lines a credible agreement based on partnership, on life, on our homeland and our struggle to liberate it."
Abbas maintained his position that Hamas must restore power in Gaza to an elected government. But he urged reconciliation and called for new elections.
Israel, citing security concerns, sealed its border with Gaza after Hamas wrested power, letting in only humanitarian aid. Ensuing shortages have deepened poverty and unemployment.
"I renew my offer for early elections here, as a way out of the hell that was imposed on us," Abbas said.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum rejected Abbas's call for talks. "It is full of incitement and words calling for divisions," he said. "There is no new initiative or practical step in this speech that can pave the road to start an immediate dialogue."