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Gunmen Target President's Home, FM's Convoy, in Gaza


Violence has erupted between rival Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip for the sixth straight day amid growing political turmoil. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, the ruling Islamic militant group Hamas is furious over a call by the Palestinian president for early elections.

Gunmen fired at Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud al-Zahar's convoy in Gaza City. He was not hurt. Members of al-Zahar's Hamas group accused the rival Fatah faction of trying to assassinate him.

The attack sparked a fierce gun battle on the main streets of Gaza City. At one point, gunmen fired at the Gaza home of moderate Palestinian President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas, but he was in the West Bank at the time.

Earlier, dozens of gunmen believed to be from Hamas attacked a training base belonging to Mr. Abbas' Presidential Guard.

Violence erupted after Mr. Abbas called early elections on Saturday, effectively cutting short the rule of Hamas, which took power nine months ago.

Hamas spokesman Fauzi Barhoum said it is a coup d'état.

"Early elections is against the law and against the constitution," Barhoum said.

Hamas says it will boycott the elections, which casts doubt on whether they will take place.

President Abbas is locked in a deepening power struggle with Hamas, which has been crippled by international sanctions, imposed because of its refusal to renounce violence and recognize Israel. Mr. Abbas supports peace talks with Israel and seeks to create a more moderate government that would be acceptable to the international community.

Israel, which will not deal with Hamas, welcomed the move toward early elections. Israeli spokeswoman Miri Eisen.

"The Israeli government has always said that we are for the moderates in the Palestinian community," Eisen said. "If early elections bring out more of the moderates, we will certainly support that."

But it will take at least three months to prepare the elections, and many fear that before then, Gaza could plunge into civil war.

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