GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Hamas gunmen attacked the headquarters of
Fatah-allied forces in northern Gaza with mortars and grenades Tuesday and captured several smaller positions in what Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah alleged was a coup attempt by the Islamic militants.
More than 80 people have been killed since mid-May, most of them militants, including two on Tuesday.
Security commanders loyal to Abbas complained they were not given clear orders to fight back at a time when Hamas appeared to be moving forward according to a plan.
Abbas’ Fatah movement was to meet later in the day to decide whether to pull out of his shaky coalition with Hamas. Calls by Abbas and exasperated Egyptian mediators for a cease-fire went unheeded.
Instead, Hamas and Fatah militants threatened to kill each other’s leaders. In Gaza, a rocket-propelled grenade damaged the home of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas but caused no injuries in what Hamas said was an attempted assassination. In the
West Bank, Fatah gunmen kidnapped a deputy Cabinet minister from Hamas.
Heavy gunbattles erupted in several locations in Gaza.
Some 200 Hamas fighters surrounded the headquarters of Fatah-allied forces in northern Gaza, a key prize for Hamas. The attackers fired mortar shells and RPGs at the compound, where some 500 security officers were holed up.
“They are attacking from all sides,” said one of the officers, Khaled Awad.
Hamas gunmen also exchanged fire with Fatah forces at the southern security headquarters in the southern town of Khan Younis, but had not yet launched a major assault. The town’s streets were empty as people huddled indoors.
Col. Nasser Khaldi, a Fatah commander in southern Gaza, confirmed his men were on the defensive. Khaldi said Abbas, the leader of Fatah, must give orders now to fight back.
“There is a weakness of our leaders,” he said. “Hamas is just taking over our positions. There are no orders.”
Hamas and Fatah have been locked in a violent power struggle since Hamas defeated Fatah in January 2006 legislative elections, ending four decades of Fatah rule.
The sides agreed to share power in an uneasy coalition three months ago, but put off key disputes, including control of the security forces. Most are dominated by Fatah loyalists, while Hamas has formed its own militia, in addition to the thousands of gunmen at its command.
Two days of fighting has left 18 Palestinians dead, including two Tuesday, in violence that has grown increasingly brutal. Some people were shot execution-style or hit in shootouts that turned hospitals into battle grounds, while others were thrown from rooftops. Residents huddled indoors, and university exams were canceled.
The head of the Egyptian mediation team, Lt. Col. Burhan Hamad, said neither side responded to his call to hold truce talks. “It seems they don’t want to come. We must make them ashamed of themselves. They have killed all hope. They have killed the future,” said Hamad, who brokered several previous short-lived cease-fires.
Hamad said both sides were about equal in firepower. “Neither can have a decisive victory,” he said. “To be decisive, they need weapons that neither side has.”
A gunbattle erupted at the European Hospital in Khan Younis when Hamas militants controlling the rooftop traded fire with Fatah-allied security forces. Fifteen children attending a kindergarten in the line of fire were rushed into the hospital.
The RPG that hit Haniyeh’s home in the Shati refugee camp on the outskirts of Gaza City struck the side of the house while the family was inside, said his son, Abdel Salam. A Hamas Web site described the incident as an assassination attempt by Fatah. “They crossed all the red lines,” said Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum.
Elsewhere, a member of the Hamas military wing was kidnapped and killed by Fatah gunmen. He was identified as a cousin of Abdel Aziz Rantisi, a Hamas leader who was assassinated by
Israel in 2004.
Separately, Hamas gunmen attacked the home of a senior Fatah security official with mortars and grenades, killing his 14-year-old son and three women inside, security officials said. Other Fatah gunmen stormed the house of a Hamas lawmaker and burned it down.
The fighting also spilled into the West Bank, with Palestinian security forces seizing two employees of the Hamas-linked Al Aqsa TV station in Ramallah. Fatah gunmen said Hamas leaders in the West Bank, a Fatah stronghold, would be targeted if Hamas doesn’t halt its attacks in Gaza.