Eight killed in Hamas-Fatah fighting in Gaza

From Times Wire Services

The Gaza Strip's ruling Hamas militant group cracked down on the rival Fatah movement early Tuesday, arresting activists and barring public gatherings after Fatah anniversary celebrations sparked deadly violence.

A total of eight people had been killed and 60 wounded as the fighting stretched into a second day despite a conciliatory speech toward Hamas by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah.

The deaths were the first in Palestinian infighting in nearly two months.

Hamas has ruled Gaza with a tight grip since routing pro-Fatah forces there in June. Last week, it said it would ban large celebrations marking Fatah's 43rd anniversary.

Fireworks illuminated Gaza on Monday night, a day before the anniversary, and Fatah backers fired rifles in the air, defying the ban and setting off clashes.

Five Palestinians died in fighting across Gaza on Monday, and a sixth died of his wounds Tuesday, medical officials said. Two others -- a Hamas policeman and a Fatah supporter -- were killed in Gaza City early Tuesday in a gun battle between Hamas security men and a family affiliated with Fatah.

The eight dead included three Hamas and three Fatah combatants, officials said. The others were an elderly man caught in a cross-fire in northern Gaza and a 14-year-old Hamas supporter shot in the southern town of Khan Yunis after he left a mosque, relatives said.

The deaths were the first in Palestinian infighting since Hamas forces opened fire on a huge Fatah rally Nov. 11, killing eight and wounding 85. That gathering was the first sign of Fatah resurgence since the Hamas takeover.

Fatah said dozens of activists had been arrested during the last two days of clashes. Islam Shahwan, a spokesman for Hamas security forces, confirmed some arrests.

At the Rafah border crossing, meanwhile, 121 Palestinians who were among a larger group stranded in Egypt for about four months were allowed to head home to Gaza via Israel, Egyptian security sources said.

They said the Palestinians were taken by bus to the Israeli-controlled Kerem Shalom border crossing.

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