By Hisham Abu Taha
GAZA CITY – Six people were killed in a gunbattle in the Gaza Strip yesterday, bringing to an end a tentative cease-fire since Tuesday between the two main Palestinian factions. Earlier, Israeli soldiers killed three Palestinians in two separate incidents in the West Bank.
The Gaza gunbattle erupted after Hamas gunmen ambushed what the group said was a convoy carrying weapons to Mahmoud Abbas’ Presidential Guard.
Abbas’ Fatah faction said the four-truck convoy, which crossed into Gaza from Israel, was carrying medical equipment and tents, and accused Hamas of plunging the cease-fire into “grave danger.”
Two Presidential Guard officers, a member of a military intelligence unitloyal to Abbas, a Hamas fighter and two civilians were killed in the battle which raged between Hamas gunmen and Presidential Guards accompanying the convoy. Hospital officials said 50 people were wounded in the clash.
“A real war is taking place, gunmen are using the heaviest arms they have,” a witness said.
Sources in the governing Hamas movement said the trucks, which set off from the Kerem Shalom crossing point with Israel, were carrying weapons for the 4,000-strong Presidential Guard, a force loyal to Abbas and his Fatah faction.
“Hamas’ heroes have commandeered arms shipments that came through Kerem Shalom as part of the fight against the Palestinian people,” a presenter on a Hamas radio station said. Residents said one of the vehicles was seized.
Fatah spokesman Tawfiq Abu Khoussa said the convoy was ferrying generators, tents and medical equipment. “There are no weapons at all,” Abu Khoussa said, describing the ambush as representing “a grave danger to the continuation of the (cease-fire) agreement.”
Asked about the convoy’s cargo, a Palestinian security official declined to comment. A senior Israeli official said she knew trucks had entered the Gaza Strip but did not know their contents.
Hamas fighters fired mortar shells near Abbas’ residence in Gaza City and nearby street battles sent residents fleeing in terror. Some left their cars idling while they sought shelter.
Masked gunmen took up positions on rooftops, while others took cover in alleyways below. Abbas was not in Gaza at the time. Separate gunbattles raged in Gaza City and in northern Gaza outside a military intelligence post. Security officials said Hamas fighters fired a rocket at the post and then sacked it, injuring five members of the security forces. At least two Hamas supporters were wounded, Hamas said.
A Fatah member was kidnapped in northern Gaza during the clashes, and one security officer was wounded.
Hamas, which formed a government last March after thrashing Fatah in a parliamentary election and so limiting its grip on power, had earlier accused “an Arab country” of shipping arms to the Presidential Guard through Egypt.
US President George W. Bush has committed $86 million to provide training and nonlethal equipment to forces loyal to Abbas. Guns and ammunition are being supplied by key US allies Jordan and Egypt, with Israeli approval, Israeli officials say. Diplomats say Abbas’ military build-up was meant to counter strides by Hamas in smuggling in more powerful weapons into Gaza for its fast-growing “Executive Force” and armed wing, known as the Izz El-Deen Al-Qassam Brigades. In the West Bank city of Nablus early yesterday, Israeli troops killed two Palestinian fighters, hospital officials and local fighters said. A gunfight erupted after an Israeli military force entered the city on a predawn raid, and two fighters from the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, a violent offshoot of Fatah, were killed in the battle, the officials said.
Israeli troops also shot and killed a Palestinian teenager along Israel’s West Bank wall near Ramallah.
(ArabNews.com and Agencies)