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Fighting between Rival Palestinian Factions Escalates in Gaza

At least 15 Palestinians were killed Friday in escalating clashes between the ruling Islamic militant group Hamas and rival Fatah faction in the Gaza Strip. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, Saudi Arabia has arranged an urgent summit meeting between Palestinian leaders in a bid to end the bloodshed.

Militiamen from the rival factions fought street battles across Gaza with mortars, rockets and machine guns. Fatah gunmen stormed into the Hamas-affiliated Islamic University and set buildings on fire. Hours later, Hamas militants attacked two buildings of the Fatah-affiliated Al-Quds University.

Fatah men also attacked the Hamas-led Interior Ministry, and Hamas fighters launched mortar shells at a Fatah training base.

The fighting destroyed a ceasefire reached three days ago, and raised fresh fears of a Palestinian civil war.

Palestinian analyst Wadia Abu Nasser says the unrest is part of a deepening power struggle between Hamas and moderate Palestinian President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas.

He said, "The dispute is mainly on who controls the Palestinians."

Hamas won Palestinian elections a year ago, but it has been crippled by international sanctions because of its refusal to renounce violence and recognize Israel.

Mr. Abbas, who was elected separately, supports peace talks with Israel. He wants Hamas to share power in a more moderate national unity government that would be acceptable to the international community.

Abu Nasser says there is no meeting of the minds on a political agenda.

"Hamas believes that because of having some significant majority in the elections, it deserves to control the Palestinians," he said. "While President Abbas believes that he and his movement, because of having significant majority in the presidential elections, they deserve to control the Palestinians. So, it is de-facto, a dispute over who is controlling the Palestinian political decision[s]."

In a bid to end the violence, Mr. Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal have agreed to hold talks in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, next week.