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Violence, Political Crisis Deepen in Gaza Strip


The Palestinian Interior Minister has resigned as a new wave of violence claimed six lives in factional fighting, and left more than 50 others wounded. VOA's Jim Teeple reports the fighting is raising fears that the two-month-old Palestinian unity government could collapse.

During the past few days gunmen have returned to the streets of the Gaza Strip, raising fears once again of an all-out civil war between the Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah. An Egyptian-mediated truce has largely failed to stop the fighting.

The violence was too much for Palestinian Interior Minister Hani Kawasmeh, a career civil servant who blamed both factions for failing to support his plan to reform the Palestinian security forces.

Kawasmeh says since his appointment he has faced obstacles from both factions that left him without any real power - and that without full authority to carry out his duties he was stepping down.

Hamas and Fatah now have to overcome their differences and agree on a new interior minister. In the meantime, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, a leading Hamas militant has taken control of the Interior Ministry.

Three months ago, Hamas and Fatah agreed to a Saudi-mediated peace deal known as the Mecca Agreement - it ended factional fighting and led to the formation of a unity Palestinian government largely dominated by Hamas.

Palestinian Information Minister, Mustapha Barghouti, an independent member of the government says he fears that with the latest violence the Mecca Agreement could come unraveled.

"There is absolutely the risk that the Mecca agreement could collapse, and the government could collapse," he said. "That is why we are working very hard now to prevent that from happening because of that happens it could be the end of the Palestinian Authority."

Barghouti says both factions need to step back and pull their gunmen off the streets before the violence gets worse.

"Both Hamas and Fatah must understand that this internal fighting cannot continue while they are both members in a coalition of a national unity government," he said.

Control of the Palestinian Interior Ministry has long been a source of dispute between Hamas and Fatah. Thousands of security force personnel are under the authority of the Interior Minister, and it took more than a month for Hamas and Fatah to agree on the appointment of Hani Kawasmeh to the post.

Thousands of additional gunmen work directly for Fatah and Hamas outside of Interior Ministry control. Last week, 3,000 additional police under the control of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who also heads Fatah, were deployed in Gaza over the objections of Hamas.