- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 19, 2007

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Men armed with rifles, grenades and explosives climbed down from their rooftop positions yesterday and residents began venturing out of bullet-scarred homes after leaders agreed to end a week of Palestinian factional bloodshed in Gaza.

The truce began to take hold as Israel carried out a fifth day of air strikes on Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip in reprisal for the Islamic militant group’s rocket attacks on Israeli border towns. Other recent cease-fires between the factions have been short-lived, but Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said he expected this one to stick because of Israel’s military action.

“No one would accept to fight one another while the Israelis are shelling Gaza,” he said.

The clashes between Hamas and Fatah gunmen loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas have brought the two groups that nominally share power to the brink of civil war. More than 50 Palestinians have been killed in a week of infighting.

The overlapping violence from Israel’s attacks on Hamas rocket operations has killed 23 other Palestinians in the past week.

Yesterday, Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz vowed to keep going after Hamas militants who would fire rockets at Israel, warning them to be “very afraid.”

Still, Mr. Peretz said time was not ripe for a major Israeli ground offensive in Gaza.

Two Israeli air strikes on Hamas targets killed three Palestinians and injured three. Five rockets from Gaza hit the Israeli border area yesterday, causing damage, but no injury.

The Palestinian infighting broke out last Sunday after Mr. Abbas stationed thousands of security forces on the streets of lawless Gaza City — a move Hamas interpreted as a provocation because it wasn’t consulted.

Yesterday’s truce committed the battling factions to pull their fighters off the streets and exchange an unknown number of hostages.

Four previous cease-fire agreements collapsed earlier last week.

A gunbattle erupted outside the home of a senior Fatah official in Gaza City as the cease-fire was reached, and security officials said several people were wounded.

And in another sign of the shaky nature of the truce, several hostages from both factions were released before an official exchange ceremony — but only after their captors shot them in the legs, both sides said.

Still, as word of the cease-fire spread, and enforcement teams went out on the streets, fighters began to comply — something they had not done with the previous truces. They also began knocking down roadblocks they had set up to identify rival fighters.

The cease-fire was negotiated in a meeting at the Egyptian representative’s office in Gaza City and endorsed by Mr. Abbas and Hamas’ exiled leader, Khaled Mashaal, who conferred a rare three times by phone in the past few days. Mr. Mashaal lives in Syria.

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