A day of assassins, gunfire in hospitals
Bitter fighting shakes coalition of Palestinians
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Rival gunmen exchanged fire at two Gaza hospitals yesterday 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 assaults continued today, as a rocket-propelled grenade was fired at the house of Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, causing damage but no injuries, Hamas officials said. Haniyeh and his family were present during the attack on the house in the Shati refugee camp on the outskirts of Gaza City, the officials said.
The battles and assaults came after two militants from the rival Hamas and Fatah factions were dragged Sunday 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 yesterday, gunmen, apparently from Hamas, laid siege to the house of Jamal Abu al-Jediyan, the senior Fatah official in northern Gaza.
"Help us. They want to kill us," a woman inside the house pleaded in a telephone call to a radio station.
The gunmen then dragged Jediyan outside and killed him, security officials said. Medics said he was hit by 45 bullets.
Jediyan was a top aide to Gaza Fatah strongman Mohammed Dahlan. Jediyan's brother was also killed, apparently in the same assault.
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 heavy fighting doomed an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire, which was announced just hours before as an attempt to let students finish their final exams, and darkened long-term prospects for the unity coalition that Islamist Hamas and secular Fatah formed three months ago.
The truce was the latest attempt to end internal strife that has killed about 620 Palestinians since Hamas beat Fatah in a 2006 election.
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 last night in northern Gaza, security and hospital officials said. Later, Hamas said one of its men, who had been kidnapped earlier, was found dead in a Gaza street.
Early today, 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.
Also, 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 after the incident.
Appeals for calm by the leaders of the two rival camps, President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah and Haniyeh of Hamas, went unheeded. Repeated attempts to secure a cease-fire have failed.
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 a dispute concerning control of the powerful security forces.
The fighting took a grisly turn on Sunday, when Hamas militants kidnapped a member of Abbas's 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."
Material from Reuters was used in this report.