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Palestinian Violence Escalates in Gaza Strip


Factional fighting in the Gaza Strip has killed 16 people, including eight in one incident when Hamas and Fatah gunmen clashed near a border crossing with Israel. More than 20 Palestinians have died in several days of factional fighting, threatening the unity government. Hamas militants also fired a barrage of rockets into southern Israel, wounding several people. VOA's Jim Teeple reports from Jerusalem.

Hamas gunmen using rockets, rocket-propelled grenades and heavy weapons, attacked a Fatah training base near the Karni crossing - the main cargo crossing point between Israel and the Gaza Strip. The base was established as part of a U.S. funded effort to help train Palestinian border guards at the crossing.

When Fatah security forces rushed to reinforce the base, they were ambushed. It is the most serious outbreak of violence since Hamas and Fatah agreed to form a unity government two months ago.

Israeli troops on the border also fired on Palestinians who got too close to the border during the incident. One Palestinian gunmen was reportedly killed by the Israeli fire.

Speaking a short while later Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas appealed for calm.

Mr. Abbas says it is time for the immediate implementation of a security plan that both Hamas and Fatah have agreed to, saying under the plan, gunmen from both factions will operate under a joint Hamas-Fatah command.

Fighting escalated just one day after the Palestinian Interior Minister resigned saying he was powerless to stop the violence.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, a leading Hamas militant, has been given temporary control of the Interior Ministry. Spokesman Ghazi Hamad says stopping the violence is a top priority of the Palestinian leadership.

"The president has given orders to all security forces to withdraw from the streets and I think Hamas and Fatah have both given orders to their elements to stop all military conflict," he said.

There are about 80,000 gunmen in the Palestinian territories loyal to either Hamas or Fatah.

The violence flared on what many Palestinians call the al-Naqba - or the catastrophe - the day they mark as an anniversary for the loss of their homeland in 1948.

About 700,000 Palestinians became refugees in May of 1948, after Israel declared its independence, and a coalition of Arab armies attacked the new Jewish state.

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