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Palestinians in Gaza Fire at Israeli Crossing


Palestinians have attacked an Israeli border terminal in a new flare-up of violence in the Gaza Strip. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, the incident followed renewed clashes between rival Palestinian factions.

Palestinian militants fired mortars at the main cargo crossing in Gaza, threatening vital trade with Israel. The attack appeared aimed at torpedoing the improving ties between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Mr. Olmert has pledged to increase the movement of goods in and out of Gaza in a bid to strengthen Mr. Abbas, who is locked in an increasingly violent power struggle with the ruling Islamic militant group Hamas.

Hours before the mortar attack, gunmen from Hamas and Mr. Abbas' Fatah faction clashed again in Gaza, ending a week of relative calm. Militants from both sides were kidnapped and held hostage.

Gun battles erupted a month ago after talks between the two groups on the formation of a national unity government collapsed. Fighting escalated after Mr. Abbas called early elections in a bid to topple the Hamas-led government.

Hamas has been crippled by Western sanctions, while Mr. Abbas wants to form a more moderate government that would negotiate with Israel and be acceptable to the international community.

Israeli analyst Michael Widlansky says the Palestinians are at a crossroads.

"There are three possibilities," Widlansky says. "One is a decline into full scale civil war, total chaos; [the] second possibility is a continuation of the status quo, slow escalation, temporary truces all the time; and the third possibility is a real cease-fire. There is a serious escalation right now. I would not be hopeful."

Underscoring the growing chaos and lawlessness in Gaza, Palestinian gunmen kidnapped a photographer from the French news agency, AFP, the latest in a wave of abductions of foreign journalists.

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