Palestinian cease-fire holds despite factional shootings


Published: Thursday, February 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 1, 2007 at 2:41 a.m.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) - A truce between warring Palestinian factions entered its third day Thursday, marred by sporadic shootings.

Early Thursday, unknown gunmen opened fire at Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, as he drove with three bodyguards in his white sedan near Gaza City, according to an official Hamas announcement sent to reporters in Gaza. There were no casualties.

The announcement blamed "coup-seekers" _ meaning militants from Fatah _ which Hamas believes is trying to forcibly unseat the Hamas-led government.

But the incident _ and another shooting Wednesday that critically wounded a Fatah man _ didn't unravel the cease-fire, declared early Tuesday by leaders of Fatah and Hamas. The truce is meant to bring an end to internal fighting that has left more than 60 Palestinians dead since early December.

On Wednesday, armed militias returned to their bases and police took their places, though some streets were still off limits to civilians.

After Wednesday's attack, Fatah and Hamas officials emphasized their support for the truce and refused to assign blame, despite deep animosity that spawned months of bloody clashes. The Islamic Hamas ousted President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah from power in an election a year ago, but Fatah retains control of most of the security forces.

Ayman Taha, a Hamas spokesman, declared his group's "absolute commitment" to the truce, and stressed Hamas' "innocence from any act that is in violation of this agreement."

"Whoever violates this agreement ... doesn't want any good for our people, and doesn't want the agreement to succeed," said Fatah spokesman Abdel Hakim Awad.

Gazans strolled the streets and went about their errands in leisurely fashion on Wednesday, enjoying the lull. Mahmoud Dahdouh, 17, hoped business at his vegetable stand would return to normal after the end of the street fighting. "People came here, and then shooting would start and they fled before they bought anything," he said, unloading a shipment of vegetables.

Many thought both Fatah and Hamas were harmed by the fighting. "Blood had to be shed for one to be on top," said Khaled Zeidan, a 40-year old engineer, who lives in an area hard hit by fighting, "but they are both losing."

Both sides said that all the fighters kidnapped during the clashes had been freed.

Previous truce deals between Hamas and Fatah militants in Gaza have quickly collapsed into new waves of fighting.

The truce did nothing to resolve the underlying power struggle between Hamas and Fatah that has fueled the fighting. The two sides have been at odds since Hamas took power a year ago, dividing the Palestinian government.

Abbas, elected separately two years ago, has urged Hamas, which faces international isolation because of its anti-Israel ideology, to join Fatah in a more moderate government. He hopes a softer platform will help end a crippling international aid boycott imposed after the Hamas victory and allow him to resume peace talks with Israel.

Hamas-Fatah coalition talks have broken down and appear unlikely to resume soon, though both Saudi Arabia and Egypt have offered to mediate.

In the West Bank city of Nablus early Thursday, Israeli troops killed two Palestinian gunmen, hospital officials and local militiamen said. A gunfight erupted after an Israeli military force entered the city on a pre-dawn raid, and two militants from the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a violent offshoot of Fatah, were killed in the battle, the officials said.

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