- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 15, 2007

GAZA CITY — At least 10 Palestinian border guards died in a hail of bullets fired by Hamas militiamen in an ambush yesterday — the deadliest in three days of gunbattles that threaten to destroy a fragile unity government.

Gunfire and ambulance sirens echoed through Gaza City’s virtually deserted streets late in the night, as gunmen and snipers battled and others took up rooftop positions.

“It’s like a ghost city, but much more scary,” said cameraman Ahmed Mashharawi by cell phone. He was taking shelter in an alley while trying to reach his home.

“If they get to each others’ throats, they won’t let go this time,” said Jamal Abu Shabaan, 21, who added that he had watched a gunbattle rage outside his furniture store Sunday.

The Palestinian Authority said yesterday’s ambush took place as guards approached a border crossing with Israel.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh appeared on television last night to say rivals Hamas and Fatah had agreed to a cease-fire. However residents reported that gunfire continued well beyond midnight, when the truce was to take effect.

At least 20 Palestinians have been killed in the past three days, the result of a power struggle between Mr. Haniyeh’s Hamas movement, which won legislative elections early last year, and the secular Fatah group of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Israeli gunfire from the crossing killed one member of the Palestinian Presidential Guard, the Associated Press reported. Israeli officials said they had no intention of being drawn into the conflict.

Separately, Hamas claimed two journalists working for a new pro-Hamas newspaper were executed Monday by security forces loyal to the Fatah movement.

They were dragged out of a car, pulled over to the side of the road and riddled with bullets, the Falesteen newspaper’s editor told reporters. The newspaper published photos of their bullet-riddled bodies on its front page yesterday. The incident took place Monday outside the offices of Mr. Abbas.

The killers of the two newspapermen taunted them beforehand by saying that their beards needed trimming, according to the dead men’s colleagues.

People who wear long and untrimmed beards, which indicate adherence to a strict version of Islam, say they have been given rough treatment by security forces loyal to Fatah.

To disguise themselves as secular Muslims, many say they have been buying cigarettes and either smoking them or sticking them behind their ears. Fundamentalists consider smoking contrary to Islamic law.

The gunbattles and ambushes are putting in jeopardy the future of a two-month-old national unity government, in which Hamas yielded several key ministerial posts to Fatah or to independents.

The main security post in the Cabinet is vacant and temporarily taken over by Mr. Haniyeh following Monday’s resignation of Interior Minister Hani Kawasmeh.

Distributed by World News & Features

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