- The Washington Times - Friday, February 2, 2007

1:23 p.m.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Fatah and Hamas gunmen battled each other at universities, a radio station and in streets across the Gaza Strip today in the deadliest single day of their struggle for control of the Palestinian government. Seventeen persons, including four children, died before the factions’ leaders announced a cease-fire.

Gazans huddled in their homes to escape the crossfire, which killed a total of 24 persons and wounded 245 after fighting erupted yesterday. Hospital officials said they were running out of blood to treat the wounded.

This afternoon, leaders of Hamas and Fatah said they had agreed to a new cease-fire but needed to work out the details of a pullback of forces, which were battling in the streets with mortar shells, rockets and heavy guns.

“We, the leaders of the two groups, agreed with God’s help on a cease-fire,” said Nizar Rayan, a regional Hamas leader, after the meeting. “The measures that will be taken on the ground will be discussed in the next few hours.” A Fatah spokesman, Abdel Hakim Awad, confirmed that agreement was reached in principle.

An earlier truce unraveled after just two days.

More than 100 Palestinians have been killed in internal violence since Hamas won parliamentary elections last year and formed a Cabinet. After the election, Hamas established its own militia as a counterweight to the security forces controlled by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The forces have fought repeatedly.

In another effort to end the fighting, Mr. Abbas is to travel Tuesday to Saudi Arabia for talks with Hamas’ exiled leader, Khaled Mashaal, on forming a national unity government, said Jamal Shobaki, Palestinian ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

Previous rounds of talks have ended in failure and often led to new bloodshed.

In an attack fraught with symbolism, Fatah forces today raided a Hamas stronghold, the Islamic University in Gaza City, setting fire to two buildings and sparking a heavy firefight with Hamas forces. Masked men in black ran through the campus and took up positions on the roof of the school’s mosque.

Hamas gunmen vowed revenge, and hours later, group members attacked two buildings of the Fatah-affiliated Al-Quds University, Palestinian security officials said.

The raid on Islamic University was the second in two days. Yesterday, Fatah said it had burst onto the campus and arrested seven Iranians, while an eighth committed suicide.

The Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, a Fatah-affiliated militant group, said it had carried out the raid of the university with the security forces and accused Hamas of using the campus to manufacture and distribute weapons.

Hamas spokesman Ismail Radwan denied the presence of Iranians at the university and called charges that it was used for military purposes “ridiculous.”

In other violence, 50 officers from Mr. Abbas’ presidential guard surrounded the Hamas-led Interior Ministry today and exchanged fire with Hamas gunmen guarding the building. Five guardsmen were killed.

Outside Gaza City, Hamas militants launched mortar shells at a Fatah training base, wounding 30 recruits, security officials said. One shell hit a nearby house and wounded two children inside.

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