- Title: GAZA/JAPAN: Hamas on offensive as Palestinians battle in Gaza
- Date: 13th June 2007
- Summary: (BN05) GAZA CITY, GAZA (JUNE 13, 2007) (REUTERS) VIEW OF CITY, EXPLOSION IN DISTANCE VARIOUS OF SMOKE RISING FROM BUILDINGS (AUDIO OF EXPLOSIONS AND GUNFIRE)
- Embargoed: 28th June 2007 13:00
- Topics: War / Fighting
- Reuters ID: LVAAZ1QVOWLYVU8J4WGV8O3W16DU
- Story Text: Hamas Islamists kill at least six Fatah fighters and blow up a security headquarters in a Palestinian supremacy struggle escalating steadily towards civil war in Gaza. Palestinian Foreign Minister Ziad Abu Amr warns that the violence could spread to the West Bank if nothing is done and dismisses speculation that one faction might leave the government. Hamas Islamist fighters and forces loyal to Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas battled on Wednesday (June 13) for control of the Gaza Strip in an escalating Palestinian supremacy struggle he described as "madness".
Chanting "stop the killing", some 1,000 Palestinians marched through Gaza City, only to draw gunfire that killed a 16-year-old demonstrator and wounded four people. It was not immediately clear who shot at them.
At least 17 people were killed in the day's violence, raising the death toll since the current surge of bloodshed began on Saturday to 65, hospital officials said.
Hamas gunmen killed six Fatah men in one clash, members of Abbas's faction said.
An aide to Abbas said an additional 13 Fatah fighters were killed in an explosion at the Preventive Security building in the town of Khan Younis. The figure could not be immediately confirmed by the local hospital.
Abbas, the Fatah leader, said the escalation of violence in Gaza was madness.
"The first step is to stop this chaos, this internal fighting, and to stop the bloodshed. I assure you that, not one party is blamed. I blame everyone who carries a gun and fires at his brother," Abbas told reporters in Ramallah after meeting a foreign diplomat.
Palestinians also held a demonstration at the Manara square in Ramallah calling for an end to the internal fighting.
"We are not happy with what is happening in Gaza and I think anger is the best description to the way we feel about what is happening there," Said Wafa Abdel Ruhman, a resident of Ramallah from Gaza.
Hamas appeared to be gaining ground in the Gaza Strip, its main stronghold, as fighting spread to the central and southern parts of the coastal territory. Eighty wounded were taken to hospitals. Gun battles also erupted in Gaza City. It is the fiercest internal violence in months between Hamas and Fatah, hospital officials said, with no end in sight after a series of failed Egyptian-brokered truces.
Hamas's armed wing, which has tightened its hold on the northern Gaza Strip by seizing a major Fatah security base, said it was giving "the seekers of a coup" -- a reference to Fatah -- in that area until Friday (June 15) evening to hand over their weapons.
There was no immediate response from Fatah to the statement.
The bloodshed has prompted Fatah, which appears to be losing ground to Hamas in Gaza, to say it was suspending participation in the unity government with Hamas without an immediate ceasefire. The government was formed in March under Saudi mediation to try to end infighting and ease Western sanctions.
Abbas's group stopped short of withdrawing outright, a move that could lead to presidential rule by decree and widen a divide between the occupied West Bank, where Fatah is dominant and factional fighting is rare, and Gaza, the Hamas powerbase.
In Japan, visiting Palestinian Foreign Minister Ziad Abu Amr warned on Wednesday (June 13) that the violence could spread to the West Bank if nothing is done and dismissed threats that one faction might leave the government as speculation.
Abu Amr, who was in Tokyo for discussions on aid and regional issues with Japanese leaders, said that the fighting was a natural result of what he called "international negligence" and warned that things could get worse without financial help.
"In order to salvage the situation, perhaps we need to go back to peace negotiations immediately. We need to resume economic assistance for the Palestinian people, we need to engage the Palestinians constructively, we need to end a political siege. So this is the way to help the Palestinians solve that internal violence and problems instead of locking them into this cage, putting them under siege, having them live under the most adversial (sic) conditions," said Abu Amr at a news conference in Tokyo.
He also dismissed reports that Fatah had decided to withdraw from the government as "speculation"
"I hope that both Fatah and Hamas will be able to contain and reconcile their differences and to stick to a national unity government because this is the only realistic and better choice for the Palestinians," he added.
Israel, which has pledged to stay out of the internal violence, said the outcome of the fighting would weigh heavily on prospects for a peace deal with the Palestinians.
Abbas has failed to persuade Hamas to accept Western demands to recognise Israel, renounce violence and abide by previous Israeli-Palestinian interim peace deals -- conditions for ending international sanctions that have deepened Palestinian poverty.
Peace efforts with Israel also have gone nowhere, despite U.S. attempts to foster a dialogue between Abbas and Olmert and elicit confidence-building steps to bolster the Fatah leader.
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