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Hamas, Fatah Fighting Spreads in Gaza Strip

Fighting between the Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah is spreading, bringing to more than 60 the number of people killed during the past few days in the Gaza Strip. VOA's Jim Teeple reports from Jerusalem, there was also violence in the West Bank, and U.N. officials say they are scaling back their operations in Gaza after two local U.N. employees were killed.

Gaza City was a scene of chaos on Wednesday as demonstrators protesting the factional fighting were caught in crossfire between Hamas and Fatah militants. At least two of the demonstrators were killed in the incident and a number of others injured, in the worst day of violence so far in the deadly power struggle between the two factions.

Speaking a short while later in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas appealed to all factions to put down their guns.

Mr. Abbas, who heads Fatah, says all factions are to blame for the violence and that if the fighting does not stop it will result in the total destruction of Gaza.

Mr. Abbas' plea fell on deaf ears as fighting escalated late in the day. A one-ton bomb destroyed the headquarters of a Fatah security force in the town of Khan Younis, killing a number of Fatah personnel.

Earlier, Hamas militants captured a key Fatah checkpoint on the main north-south road and appeared to consolidate their hold in the northern Gaza Strip where they overran a Fatah security compound on Tuesday, and issued a series of ultimatums to Fatah to disarm.

Reporter Mohammed Dawass says Fatah militants are not likely to accept Hamas domination in the area. "Well if this continues I do not think Fatah will continue to just stand still," said Dawass. "They are going to react and there will be a reaction and things will just get worse."

Violence also spread to the West Bank where more than a dozen Hamas militants were abducted in Nablus. Fatah gunmen attacked a Hamas TV production company office in the city.

Fatah officials have threatened to pull out of the Palestinian unity government if the fighting does not stop, but Hamas leaders blame Fatah for the violence, saying Fatah security forces are behind a crime wave of kidnappings and violence, and that Hamas security forces have been marginalized by Mr. Abbas. The two factions have been in a bitter power struggle since Hamas won legislative elections last year.

In Gaza, civilians stayed indoors and normal life came to a halt. U.N. officials said they will be forced to scale back their food delivery and medical services programs after two Palestinian U.N. workers were killed in crossfire, but they have no intention of shutting down operations.