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Rival Palestinian Factions Clash in Gaza, Ending Lull

  • Robert Berger

At least six people have been wounded in renewed clashes between rival Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, the fighting is part of a power struggle over control of the Palestinian security forces.

Gunmen from the ruling Islamic militant group Hamas and rival Fatah faction clashed just 48 hours after Palestinian police began deploying in Gaza under a new security plan. Officials say the fighting erupted when members of the Fatah-dominated security forces arrested a Hamas militant. Hamas gunmen then stormed the compound where the militant was held and freed him.

That sparked several other clashes in which gunmen from the two factions exchanged fire.

It was some of the heaviest fighting since Hamas and Fatah formed a national unity government two months ago in a bid to avert civil war.

The clashes are a blow to the new security plan which is aimed at ending the growing lawlessness in Gaza since Israel pulled out of the territory nearly two years ago.

In the first phase of the plan some 3,000 police loyal to Fatah deployed in Gaza City, taking up positions at main intersections and government buildings. That angered Hamas which charged that Palestinian President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas did not coordinate the move with them.

Israeli analyst Michael Widlansky says despite formation of the unity government, there are deep differences between the two factions.

"They have opposing interests," he said. "They disagree about how to handle domestic affairs in Gaza, and they also disagree in a turf war kind of manner."

Widlansky says one of the main points of contention is control of the security forces by Mr. Abbas, a western-backed moderate who supports peace talks with Israel.

"Hamas wants to control the Palestinian Authority," he said. "They look at Abbas as being a weak eunuch. They don't believe he should control anything and they don't believe he can control anything."

Hamas reluctantly agreed to share power with Mr. Abbas, hoping that a government including moderates would end international sanctions that have crippled the Palestinian Authority. The sanctions were imposed because Hamas refuses to renounce violence and recognize Israel. But Mr. Abbas has not convinced the United States and Europe to restore direct aid to the government, and that is adding to the tensions in Gaza.

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