Rival Palestinian factions have clashed in the Gaza Strip, ending a lull in infighting that lasted a month.  A local militia leader was killed and seven people wounded.  Robert Berger reports from the VOA bureau in Jerusalem.

Gunmen from the ruling Islamic militant group Hamas and the rival Fatah faction exchanged fire in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun.  Each side blamed the other for starting the battle.  Fatah said it returned fire after Hamas attacked a compound of the security forces with rocket-propelled grenades.  Hamas claimed Fatah gunmen in a truck opened fire first, killing a field commander.

It was the worst fighting since the two groups agreed to form a national unity government during talks in Mecca a month ago. 

The violence followed an incident in the West Bank on Saturday in which Fatah gunmen fired on the car of a Hamas Cabinet minister.  No one was hurt, but the attack raised tensions between the two groups.

Palestinian security forces deployed on the streets of Gaza to restore calm.  Hamas official Fawzi Barhoum appealed to both sides.

"...to stop all type of crime and violence against our people, and to protect our people from this shooting," Barhoum said.

Hamas and Fatah agreed to a national unity government in a bid to avert civil war.  But the two sides remain deeply divided over how to achieve a Palestinian state.  The Hamas-led Palestinian Authority has been crippled by international sanctions because the group seeks the destruction of Israel through jihad or holy war.  Palestinian President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas has a more moderate approach:  He seeks international backing to negotiate a final peace agreement with Israel.