Israel + 1 more

Palestinians battle on in Gaza, toll now 53 dead

News and Press Release
Originally published
By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA, June 13 (Reuters) - Palestinians battled on across the Gaza Strip early on Wednesday and six more factional fighters were killed, raising the death toll to 53 in four days of the fiercest internal fighting in months, hospital officials said.

Gunmen from the Islamist Hamas movement attacked positions controlled by security forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah throughout central Gaza, killing one militant and wounding at least 10, hospital officials said.

In one clash alone, four Fatah men were killed, Fatah officials said. Hamas said it had taken over several posts from Abbas's National Security Force in the fighting.

Another Fatah member was killed after Hamas gunmen fought with Fatah security officers in Gaza City.

Hamas said secular Fatah militants fired a rocket-propelled grenade against the house of its Deputy Minister of Information, setting the house ablaze but causing no injuries.

Hamas and Fatah have been locked in a bloody power struggle that has touched off a wave of fighting and has pushed the Gaza Strip to the brink of civil war. A Palestinian minister warned on Wednesday the violence could spread to the West Bank, where a larger number of Palestinians live in relative calm.

Late on Tuesday, Fatah's leaders said they would quit the three-month-old unity government they joined under Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh if the fighting did not end.

The head of an Egyptian security delegation in Gaza that has tried to mediate over the past months called for a rally at 11 a.m. (0800 GMT) to demand the militants lay down their arms.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Ziad Abu Amr, visiting Tokyo, warned on Wednesday the violence in Gaza could spread to the West Bank if nothing is done, urging the international community to provide financial aid.

"The idea now is to see how we can salvage the situation," he said, warning that fighting could expand to the West Bank unless the economic situation especially in Gaza, which suffers from 70 percent unemployment, is dealt with promptly.

"If you have two brothers put into a cage and deprive them of basic essential needs for life, they will fight," he said.

"I don't think we should put the blame on the victim."

On Tuesday, Fatah forces raided a Hamas television station in the West Bank city of Ramallah, arresting three people. Hamas officials said a member of their party who is a senior civil servant in the Transport Ministry was also snatched outside his office by unknown gunmen in the same city.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mugrabhi, Writing by Ari Rabinovitch, Editing by Alastair Macdonald)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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