martes, 15 de mayo de 2007

15 killed in fierce Gaza clashes

Fifteen people have been killed in the most ruthless round yet of factional fighting, pushing the fragile Palestinian unity government closer to collapse.

Gunmen in black ski masks controlled the streets and terrified residents huddled in their homes. Israel, too, was briefly drawn into the battle.

The latest bout of bloodletting began after a Hamas commander was killed overnight, members of the militant Islamic movement retaliated by firing a rocket-propelled grenade at a vehicle carrying Fatah gunmen. It left eight of them dead.

Early Tuesday, the Hamas gunmen then attacked a nearby camp used by members of the Fatah-controlled presidential guard taking part in a controversial United Nations training programme run by a former Royal Marine.

The camp was destroyed and the cadets forced to withdraw to a training ground close to the Karni crossing, where goods enter and leave Gaza from Israel. Last night the cadets remained in the camp surrounded by Hamas members.

An Egyptian mediator said a truce was reached late Tuesday — the third in as many nights. The others have collapsed within hours.

Around midnight, a car carrying Egyptian officials with Hamas and Fatah representatives came under fire, Hamas officials said, and an Egyptian diplomat was slightly wounded.

A 10-year-old girl was caught in a crossfire Tuesday evening and critically wounded by a gunshot to the head, Palestinian rescue workers said.

In the West Bank, Abbas called for the immediate implementation of a security plan that would put all rival forces under one command. However, his call is unlikely to be heeded: the fighting made it clear that the Hamas-Fatah power struggle was never really resolved, despite the formation of the unity government in March.

But there was little chance of that as about 500 Fatah gunmen streamed back into Gaza from training camps in neighbouring Egypt vowing revenge.

Gaza's turmoil further weakened hopes for a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, despite a new push by the Arab world to bring the sides to the table, based on an offer of Arab recognition of Israel in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal from all lands it occupied in the 1967 Mideast War.

In all, 23 people have been killed and dozens wounded in three days of street fighting.

The violence threatens to bring down the new national unity government and drive the occupied territories to civil war.

Meanwhile, Hamas claimed responsibility for firing a barrage of six rockets from Gaza into Israel. The attack injured a child and three adults, one seriously, in the town of Sderot

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