Fatah, Hamas clash at border
Palestinian leaves $35m in Egypt
RAFAH, Gaza Strip -- Hamas gunmen seized control of the Gaza Strip's border crossing with Egypt yesterday in a ferocious gunbattle with Fatah-allied border guards after Israel blocked the Hamas prime minister from crossing with tens of millions of dollars in aid.
Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh was eventually allowed to cross without the estimated $35 million cash but on the Gaza side of the border, his convoy came under intense fire from Fatah gunmen and one of his bodyguards was killed. Hamas said the gunmen had been aiming to kill the prime minister.
More than two dozen people were wounded in the fighting, deepening factional violence that has pushed the rivals closer to civil war. One of the injured was Haniyeh's 27-year-old son, Abed.
Haniyeh cut short a trip abroad and was trying to return to Gaza in a bid to quell the infighting between Hamas and Fatah. He was carrying the cash for his government which has been bankrupted by international sanctions to punish Hamas for refusing to renounce its violent, anti-Israel ideology.
Israeli officials said from the beginning that Haniyeh could cross into Gaza without the money. Egyptian mediators stepped in to help resolve the standoff and Haniyeh finally was allowed to cross into Gaza late Thursday. But Maria Telleria, spokeswoman for European border monitors at the crossing, said Haniyeh left the funds, estimated at $35 million, in Egypt.
After he crossed, there was a new burst of gunfire and Haniyeh's convoy was forced to speed away. A 24-year-old bodyguard for Haniyeh was shot in the head and killed. Officials said Haniyeh was unharmed but his son was shot and slightly injured in the exchange.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas expressed regret for the shooting of the bodyguard, according to the Palestinian news agency, WAFA.
Haniyeh left the crossing for his home near Gaza City. Arriving home around midnight, the prime minister was furious over the gunfire at his convoy. He blamed Israel for the delay at the border but added: "We know the party that shot directly at our cars, injuring some of the people with me . . . and we also know how to deal with this."
About 50 gunmen greeted Haniyeh at his home in a refugee camp next to Gaza City, firing in the air and throwing candies.
Earlier yesterday , pro-Fatah Palestinian officers arrested a Hamas-linked militant in the killing of the three young sons of a Fatah security chief. The militant's allies retaliated by kidnapping a security officer.
The gunbattle at the border erupted yesterday after Hamas militants, angry that Israel was preventing Haniyeh from returning, stormed the Rafah terminal, which is controlled by the pro-Fatah Presidential Guard under the watch of European monitors.
The Presidential Guard opened fire, setting off a gunfight. Terrified travelers ran for cover, some carrying their luggage. Crying women and children hid behind walls and taxis, while the European monitors who police the crossing fled. Two Hamas militants were among those wounded.
The Hamas militants, chanting "God is Great, let's liberate this place" took over the arrival hall, and border guards escorted the European monitors to safety. Two loud explosions rocked the area, and security officials said militants had blown a hole in the border fence about a half mile from the terminal.
The rampage destroyed furniture and computer equipment inside the terminal and plunged the area into darkness. Hospital officials said at least 27 people were wounded, two seriously.
With the terminal closed, Haniyeh was stranded on the Egyptian side of the border for several hours. Late yesterday , the Presidential Guard regained control of the terminal and the European monitors moved back in.