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Palestinian Gunmen Kill 3 Children of Intelligence Officer in Assassination Attempt

Three children are the latest victims of Palestinian factional fighting in the Gaza Strip. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, Gaza has been hit by escalating lawlessness and sporadic street battles since the Islamic militant group Hamas was elected in January.

Gunmen fired a hail of bullets at a car in Gaza City, killing three young children of senior Palestinian intelligence officer Baha Balousheh. He is a member of the Fatah faction, and considered an enemy of the rival and more militant Hamas group. The three children, ranging in age from six to 10, were on their way to school. An adult bystander was also killed.

Security officials believe the shooting was an attempt to assassinate Balousheh because the windows of the car were covered by black shades, blocking a view of the passengers. Gunmen had tried to kill him twice before.

The killing of children marks a dangerous turn in factional fighting that is likely to stoke more violence. Fatah blamed Hamas, though the government condemned the attack. Moderate Palestinian President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas called it an "ugly and inhuman crime."

Thousands of angry Fatah supporters joined a mass funeral procession for the children, calling for revenge. They burned tires, blocked roads and shut down the city's commercial market in protest.

The unrest has raised fears of a Palestinian civil war.

"It is not really civil war, comprehensive civil war, because I believe that Hamas is not interested and Fatah is not capable to go to such a war," said Palestinian analyst Wadia Abu Nasser.

Relations between the two factions plummeted 10 days ago, when months of talks on forming a national unity government collapsed.