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Friday, January 5, 2007

Haniyeh, Abbas meet amid bloodshed

Haniyeh, Abbas meet amid bloodshed

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh met with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday night to discuss a solution to the current inter-faction violence after a day of clashes between Hamas and Fatah loyalists left eight Palestinians dead.

According to Army Radio, Haniyeh, of Hamas, said the two had agreed at the meeting to work toward ending the infighting in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

"We are going to end all armed displays in the streets," Haniyeh told reporters. he said. Abbas had no comment.

The eight Palestinians killed in Thursday's armed confrontations brought the death toll to 13 over the past 48 hours. At least 16 Palestinians were wounded in Thursday's fighting.

Haniyeh, who returned to the Gaza Strip after a week-long visit to Saudi Arabia, appealed to the warring factions to halt the fighting and to direct their weapons toward Israel. Fatah officials, on the other hand, accused Hamas of operating "death squads" in the Gaza Strip.

The body of Gen. Muhammed Gharib, chief of the Fatah-dominated Preventive Security Service in northern Gaza, riddled with bullets and mutilated by stab wounds, was found in his home in northern Gaza Thursday after a daylong battle with Hamas gunmen. Gharib's two daughters were also killed during the fighting, according to reports.

Gharib was on the phone to Palestine TV just moments before his death and appealed for help as his house came under attack. "They are killers," he said of the Hamas gunmen. "They are targeting the house, children are dying, they are bleeding. For God's sake, send an ambulance, we want an ambulance, somebody move."

The battle outside the house raged for much of the day and killed four of Gharib's guards and a Hamas gunman. The Hamas member was identified as Ayman Subuh, 26. A passerby killed in the crossfire was named as 18-year-old Ihab al-Mabhouh. About three dozen people, including eight children, were also wounded.

During the standoff outside Gharib's home in Beit Lahiya, dozens of women rushed into the streets in protest, chanting "Spare the bullets, shame, shame."

Hospital officials said ambulances sent to the scene were unable to reach their destination because of the heavy clashes between Fatah and Hamas supporters. Eyewitnesses reported that Hamas gunmen fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the home of senior Fatah official Sufian Abu Zaida. No one was hurt.

On Wednesday, Gharib escaped an assassination attempt when Hamas gunmen fired at his convoy. Two of his bodyguards were kidnapped during that attack. The killing of the senior officer on Thursday was likely to spark reprisal raids.

Earlier Thursday, six Palestinians were wounded by gunfire during the funeral procession of three Fatah-affiliated security officers who were killed in Wednesday's clashes with Hamas in Khan Yunis. Fatah activists accused Hamas gunmen of firing at the mourners. However, a spokesman for Hamas claimed that the six were wounded when their friends fired into the air during the funeral.

Speaking to reporters outside his home in Shati refugee camp, Haniyeh urged all Palestinian groups to halt the fighting and to use their weapons against Israel. He also expressed regret for the death of Palestinians in the ongoing fighting.

"We must rise to the hopes of our people," he said. "Let's top this bloodshed and rivalry. Let's tackle our problems through dialogue, not weapons. These weapons should be directed only against the Israeli enemy."

Haniyeh lashed out at Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, accusing him of failing to fulfill his promises to Abbas to release Palestinian prisoners and remove IDF checkpoints in the West Bank.

"We don't have much confidence in Israeli promises," he said. "Olmert has already reneged on a number of understandings he reached with President Abbas during their recent summit. He neither released prisoners nor eased restrictions imposed on our people."

As the fighting escalated in the Gaza Strip, Fatah spokesman launched an unprecedented attack on Hamas, holding the movement responsible for the latest flare-up.

"It's time to put an end to the death gangs that Hamas is operating in the Gaza Strip," said Fatah legislator Jamal Tirawi. "Hamas must stop lying and killing. Their version of the latest events reminds us of the Israeli army's lies. They are stupid to think that the people believe them."

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