Palestinian gunmen clash with police - East Valley Tribune: Nation / World

Palestinian gunmen clash with police

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Posted: Monday, March 20, 2006 5:59 am | Updated: 2:12 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - Palestinian gunmen from the ousted Fatah Party stormed government buildings, briefly took over a power plant and blocked a vital road in the Gaza Strip on Monday, injecting more chaos into the volatile area as Hamas militants readied to take power.

Nine people were wounded in five separate firefights with Palestinian police. The violence was a foretaste of what might happen if Hamas tried to impose its will on Fatah gunmen.

Bad blood runs deep between Hamas and Fatah, and many Fatah activists - including nearly 60,000 members of the security forces - fear for their government jobs once the militants take power. The handover drew nearer on Sunday, when Hamas, which won January parliamentary elections, presented its new Cabinet to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas for approval.

The bloodiest of the five confrontations Monday took place at Gaza's government compound. Three dozen gunmen demanding jobs charged toward the complex, firing in the air. Some burst into the Finance Ministry, while others began firing at random, wounding a doorman outside the adjacent Foreign Ministry before Palestinian police pulled up in jeeps and began exchanging fire with the attackers.

An Associated Press reporter was in the Foreign Ministry at the time of the attack. Just yards away from him, two stray bullets hit a security guard in the legs. Other ministry employees ran for cover, pressing close to walls or hiding under tables as bullets smashed windows.

Police eventually stormed the ministry, arresting three gunmen from the Fatah-affiliated Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades. In total, two gunmen and two security officials were wounded in the firefight.

Dozens of gunmen also exchanged fire with members of the security forces at Palestinian police headquarters.

Earlier in the day, gunmen blocked a road leading to the main Israel-Gaza crossing point, briefly took over Gaza's power plant and entered a military hospital.

About 35 gunmen traded fire with policemen who tried to remove them from the road leading to the Erez crossing point, which Abbas had been scheduled to use Monday morning to leave Gaza for the West Bank. Two gunmen and a policeman were wounded.

Two dozen gunmen also briefly infiltrated Gaza's power plant elsewhere in Gaza, exchanging fire with police and wounding two, officials said.

No one was hurt at the military hospital near the town of Khan Younis.

Hamas' designated foreign minister, Mahmoud Zahar, blamed the violence on Fatah mismanagement.

"We are going to deal with it by the proper means in order to solve these problems," Zahar said.

The gunbattles on Monday were the most intense in months, and came a day after Hamas' designated prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, handed Abbas a proposed 24-member Cabinet dominated by Hamas activists.

Hamas' failure to bring Fatah or other more moderate Palestinian lawmakers into the government was likely to set off painful Western aid cutbacks. The main bone of contention was Hamas' refusal to compromise on its right to violent resistance against Israel and its rejection of the Jewish state's legitimacy.

Abbas is not expected to submit the list to parliament for approval before Israel's March 28 elections.

Abbas, who favors negotiating a final peace settlement with Israel, has urged Hamas to moderate its violent ideology but likely will approve the Cabinet, his aides say. He will, however, warn Hamas that its refusal to soften positions that could hurt the Palestinians' international standing.

Hamas' refusal to moderate its anti-Israel stance has led acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to formulate a sweeping plan of West Bank territorial pullbacks that he plans to carry out with or without negotiations.

On Monday, Olmert reiterated that he would change Israel's borders significantly after next week's voting, which his Kadima Party is expected to win.

The borders with the West Bank "will be appreciably different from today's borders," Olmert told Israel Army Radio.

Olmert said he had not mapped out specific lines. But restating a position he articulated earlier in the month, he said Israel would hold on to its three major settlement blocs, where most of the 253,000 Jewish settlers live.

He also reiterated his plans to maintain the Jordan River Valley as a security border, and to build a controversial West Bank project between Jerusalem and the biggest settlement, Maaleh Adumim, that both the Palestinians and the U.S. have deplored.

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