- The Washington Times - Friday, January 26, 2007

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Hamas gunmen stormed the home of a militant from the rival Fatah movement yesterday, witnesses said, sparking a deadly gunbattle and capping a day of factional violence across the Gaza Strip that killed at least 14 persons, including a 2-year-old boy.

The fighting was among the deadliest in nearly two months and marred the first anniversary of Hamas’ upset victory in Palestinian elections. After nightfall, the fighting showed no signs of slowing, as the sound of gunfire echoed throughout Gaza City.

The heaviest shooting was concentrated around the home of Mansour Shaleil, a local Fatah leader in the Jebaliya refugee camp just north of Gaza City.

Hamas gunmen surrounded the home early yesterday to detain Mr. Shaleil, accusing him of involvement in a shooting that killed two Hamas supporters. After an hourslong standoff, dozens of Hamas gunmen stormed the house and exchanged fire with Mr. Shaleil and a supporter, according to witnesses and ambulance drivers.

They later withdrew, Palestinian press reported, leaving Mr. Shaleil unharmed. Two persons were killed.

“It looks like they forgot who the enemy is,” said Maher Mekdad, a Fatah spokesman. “They forgot the Israeli occupation.”

Fatah gunmen, meanwhile, kidnapped 19 Hamas militants and threatened to kill them if Mr. Shaleil was harmed, officials on both sides said.

During the day, fighting also spread to the headquarters of the pro-Fatah Preventive Security agency in Gaza City. Four Hamas gunmen were killed in a battle outside a nearby mosque. Hamas accused Fatah gunmen of starting the battle and wounding several worshippers in a drive-by attack. Mortar shells and rocket-propelled grenades were fired during the melee, smashing windows on several homes.

In other incidents, fighting erupted outside the residences of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah and Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar of Hamas. Hamas officials said Mr. Zahar’s home was damaged by two rocket-propelled grenades.

Hundreds of security forces loyal to Mr. Abbas — who was in Europe at the time — were sent into the streets to protect his compound and various security installations.

In all, 14 persons were killed throughout Gaza, medical officials said, including a 2-year-old boy who was shot while traveling in a car in the southern town of Khan Younis. Hamas and Fatah officials accused each other of firing the deadly shot.

Tensions have been high since Hamas swept parliamentary elections in January 2006, ending four decades of Fatah rule. Those tensions have frequently erupted into violence.

Hamas during the election promised to root out corruption and improve social services, but the Hamas-led government has been paralyzed by an international boycott and has accomplished little on its agenda.

Israel and Western donors have cut off hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to the Palestinian government, demanding Hamas renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist. Hamas has rejected the conditions, despite deepening poverty in the West Bank and Gaza caused by the sanctions.

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