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Archive for Monday, December 18, 2006

Hamas, Fatah reach cease-fire

December 18, 2006

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— The rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas reached a tentative cease-fire Sunday to end days of bloody fighting that had raised tensions in the Gaza Strip to their highest point in a decade, mediators said.

The agreement came after a daylong wave of factional violence that killed three people. Armed militants continued to patrol the streets after the truce was announced, making it uncertain whether it would hold.

Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh has accused Abbas of inflaming the political crisis by calling for early elections and said his Hamas group would boycott the poll. Abbas, a moderate from Fatah, called for new elections to resolve the political deadlock that has paralyzed the Palestinian government since the hardline Hamas militants won January parliamentary elections.

Hamas' electoral victory split the Palestinian government, with Abbas seeking peace with Israel and Hamas refusing to even recognize the Jewish state's existence. The political tensions have repeatedly turned violent and the chaos has spiraled out of control since unknown gunmen killed the three young sons of a Fatah-allied security chief last week.

Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar's motorcade came under fire Sunday as it drove near the Foreign Ministry in Gaza City. Zahar was unharmed, but the attack unleashed a ferocious gunbattle that raged for more than an hour, the worst fighting since unity government talks broke down late last month. Medical officials said a 19-year-old woman was killed in the crossfire.

Zahar said top Fatah leaders were "fully responsible" for the attack on him "and what will happen."

Photoalestinian fatah supporters chant slogans Sunday as they march in support of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the Jebaliya refugee camp, northern Gaza Strip. Gunmen attacked the convoy of the Hamas foreign minister and raided a training base of security forces allied with Abbas in escalating fighting Sunday, a day after the Palestinian leader announced he would end nine months of Hamas rule by calling early elections.

Photoalestinian fatah supporters chant slogans Sunday as they march in support of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the Jebaliya refugee camp, northern Gaza Strip. Gunmen attacked the convoy of the Hamas foreign minister and raided a training base of security forces allied with Abbas in escalating fighting Sunday, a day after the Palestinian leader announced he would end nine months of Hamas rule by calling early elections.

In a separate attack blamed on Hamas, dozens of gunmen raided a training camp of Abbas' Presidential Guard near the president's residence, killing a member of the elite force.

Hamas gunmen also opened fire at a demonstration of tens of thousands of Fatah supporters in northern Gaza, wounding at least one person, and unknown militants fired at least two mortars at Abbas' office in Gaza City. Hours later, they launched another mortar shell.

Five pro-Fatah security men and a 45-year-old woman were wounded, officials said. Abbas was in the West Bank at the time.

Elsewhere, the bullet-riddled body of a top security officer affiliated with Fatah, Col. Adnan Rahmi, was discovered in northern Gaza several hours after he disappeared, Palestinian medical officials and his family said. No group took responsibility, but Rahmi's family blamed Hamas for the killing.

The violence persisted throughout the night, with Hamas and Fatah gunmen waging battles in the northern Gaza town of Jebaliya, near the home of a Fatah strongman in Gaza, and outside the Gaza parliament building. Hamas militants also clashed with Abbas' bodyguard unit outside his Gaza home.

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