oPt + 1 more

Palestinian truce unravels after gunmen ambush convoy

Gaza_(dpa) _ A ceasefire aimed at ending inter-Palestinian fighting started to fall apart Thursday when an attack on an aid convoy in the centre of the Gaza Strip sparked new gunbattles between Hamas militants and forces loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas.

The convoy ambush left four people dead, one of them a child, medical officials said.

Two additional Palestinian from security forces loyal to Abbas were killed Thursday night by members of Hamas's auxiliary police in Beit Lahiya in the northern section of the strip. Ten people were injured.

More than 40 people have been killed in the inter-Palestinian fighting since last Thursday.

Witnesses said gunfire could be heard throughout Gaza city in the late afternoon and evening Thursday, as Hamas activists battled with militiamen from organzations linked to Abbas' Fatah party, including the presidential guard, close to Abbas's home and his office.

Fighting also broke out on the campus of the Islamic University in Gaza overnight, according to broadcast reports. The BBC reported Fatah militants had stormed the campus, which is seen as a bastion of Hamas.

The convoy ambush occurred when Hamas gunmen held up a fleet of trucks carrying tents, portable toilets and generators, and escorted by the presidential guard.

Palestinian sources said the gunmen thought the convoy was carrying weapons that would be used against Hamas in the sporadic clashes between it and Fatah.

When they realised their mistake, they destroyed the trucks and fled.

The ambush took place on the third day of a truce between the two groups that had brought a relative calm to the salient.

Tensions between the two movements, already high after Hamas replaced Fatah as the ruling party following elections one year ago, escalated in December, around the time Abbas announced he was calling new parliamentary and presidential elections.

The Hamas government slammed the call as a coup against it.

Prior to calling for new elections, Abbas had been trying to negotiate a unity Hamas-Fatah government, which he hopes will ease the economic and diplomatic boycott Western countries imposed on the Palestinian government after Hamas won power in elections in 2006 but refused to moderate its hardline stance toward Israel.

But the talks, which have been ongoing for months, have floundered, in part because of a dispute over the allocation of portfolios in the mooted new government, and in part because Hamas refuses western demands to renounce violence and change its charter to recognize Israel's right to exist.

Although Abbas, frustrated at the lack of progress, called for new elections, he has also said he hopes it will be possible to form a national unity government. dpa sar jab sg mga sc aw

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