GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Gunmen from the rival Hamas and Fatah movements battled in Gaza City for a third straight day yesterday, firing mortar shells and grenades in clashes that killed seven people in the increasingly bloody power struggle over the Palestinian government.
The deaths brought to 25 the number of Palestinians killed since late Thursday, with at least 68 people wounded and efforts to forge a coalition government at a standstill.
The latest fighting, which started Thursday after a Hamas activist was killed in a bombing, has been among the deadliest in nearly two months of clashes.
The Palestinian prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, and a spokesman for President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, both appealed for calm. But after a brief lull, fighting flared up again.
In a clear jab at the moderate Abbas, Haniyeh criticized "troublemakers who are trying to veer away from the path of our people" by receiving "dirty American funding and arms." The White House is seeking some $85 million to help bolster forces loyal to Abbas.
The violence has been fueled by Abbas's pledge to call elections if the talks between Hamas and Fatah fail. Abbas said last week he would move forward with his election plan if the coalition talks fail to produce results within three weeks.
Hamas, which defeated Fatah in parliamentary elections last year, opposes a new vote.
Streets in the hardest-hit neighborhoods were deserted yesterday, and only bakeries and grocery stores opened for business. Al-Azhar University called off exams, and the Interior Ministry, which is controlled by Hamas and oversees several security forces, told its employees to go home.
Late last night, a 12-year-old boy was killed and two people were wounded in the northern Gaza Strip during a shootout between Hamas and Fatah gunmen, witnesses and hospital officials said. One of the Hamas men was killed in the gun battle, hospital officials said.
The boy's father, Baher Abu El-Karaya, a local Fatah leader, was injured. From his hospital bed, he said Hamas gunmen attacked his home.
Two men were also killed in a car explosion north of Gaza City, Palestinian security officials said. The identities of the men were not immediately known.
A gun battle erupted yesterday near the Islamic University, killing one man, according to hospital officials. In a firefight elsewhere in the city, a Palestinian police officer was killed.
Before dawn yesterday, Hamas gunmen fired mortars at the headquarters of the Preventive Security Service, which is allied with Abbas, and at the home of the force's chief, Rashid Abu Shbak, officials said. The rocket fire started anew last night.
In fighting around the compound Friday, six Hamas gunmen were killed and a seventh died yesterday of wounds sustained in the battle, said Hamas spokesman Ayman Taha.
He accused Fatah loyalists of storming a mosque near the security headquarters and executing a senior Hamas activist inside while he was reading the Koran.
Fatah denied it had stormed the mosque, but said that Hamas gunmen had used the mosque as a base for attacking the security headquarters.
At another Gaza City mosque, Hamas activists hung posters with photos of Hamas supporters killed or wounded in the fighting. "These are the criminal activities of the pro-Zionist, American criminals," the caption read, in reference to Fatah.
Mediators from two small factions, meanwhile, tried to win the release of hostages taken by the two sides. Late yesterday, seven Hamas activists and four Fatah members were freed in Khan Younis, officials said.
Kidnappings have become a common tactic during the infighting. In all cases, hostages have been released unharmed. As of late yesterday, roughly a dozen people on each side remained in captivity, officials said.
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 50 people in Gaza since early December.