- Title: GAZA/ JERUSALEM: Gaza slips into factional violence, raising fears of civil war
- Date: 13th May 2007
- Summary: GUNMEN FIRING IN THE AIR, YOUTHS FLEEING
- Embargoed: 28th May 2007 13:00
- Topics: Crime / Law Enforcement
- Reuters ID: LVA8CGURN6LOVGXZHTOU68S43VOJ
- Story Text: In a blow to the unity government, the Palestinian interior minister resigns as internal fighting surges in Gaza , raising fears of civil war. Palestinian Interior Minister Hani al-Qawasmi resigned on Monday (May 14), rocking the two-month-old unity government, after the biggest surge in factional fighting in months revived fears of civil war.
Despite an Egyptian-brokered truce, two Palestinian gunmen and a vegetable seller caught in crossfire were killed in Gaza in clashes between the Hamas and Fatah groups. Eight people have been shot dead since a new round of violence erupted on Friday (May 11).
Dozens of Hamas gunmen exchanged fire with Fatah security officers in Gaza City. Hours later, Fatah officials accused Hamas activists of setting fire to their offices and Hamas pointed a finger at Fatah for burning one of their vehicles.
While exchanges of fire continued, hundreds of mourners buried their dead. In a funeral procession for a Fatah member, mourners, including gunmen, carried the body through the streets of Gaza and chanted slogans. Several gunmen fired in the air while people fled.
Qawasmi publicly announced his resignation at a news conference outside his office.
"I faced obstacles during preparation of the security plan, the obstacles ,for me as a minister, made the interior ministry look empty," Qawasmi said after Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, a Hamas leader, accepted his resignation.
He added: "I told all parties I do not accept to be a minister without authority, a shape without content."
As Hamas's choice for interior minister, Qawasmi was to have overseen security services, but officials said the former academic was frustrated by competition from powerful Fatah rivals for control of the armed contingents.
Qawasmi's move cast new doubt on whether power-sharing between Islamist Hamas and secular Fatah could continue. Filling the Interior Ministry post had been one of the main obstacles to forming the coalition.
Officials said Haniyeh, a Hamas leader, would temporarily take charge of Qawasmi's ministry.
Haniyeh convened his cabinet in Gaza City to discuss Qawasmi's resignation and to try to keep the government together, cabinet spokesman Ghazi Hamad said.
"I do not think the incidents threaten the Mecca agreement. We hope these incidents will end soon and they will come under control," Hamad told journalists.
Earlier, sources in President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah said tensions stoked by the renewed violence with Hamas, after the ceasefire was announced late on Sunday, could lead to the collapse of the unity government within days.
Under the ceasefire agreement, both sides were to have pulled gunmen off the streets, a day before Palestinians mark the "Naqba", or what they describe as the tragedy that befell them when Israel was created in 1948.
Israeli Welfare Minister Isaac Herzog reaffirmed Israel's position that it would not tolerate rockets being fired on its towns and villages.
"What we want to do is to protect our citizens, which is natural, and to bring tranquillity back to the region, " he told Reuters after a meeting of the Labour faction in the Israeli parliament.
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