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(photo credit: AP)
Mustapha Abu Sa'deh hasn't let his three children leave their home in the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood of Gaza City for four days, for fear they will be caught in an exchange of gunfire between Hamas and Fatah militiamen.
"We're living under a self-imposed curfew," the 38-year-old civil engineer told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. "My children, aged eight to 12, have not gone to school since the fighting broke out last Friday. It's become too dangerous to walk in the street or to look out the window."
Like many in Gaza City, Abu Sa'deh expressed fear that the "mini-war" between Fatah and Hamas would deteriorate into an all-out confrontation. "The fighting in the streets reminds us of the civil war in Lebanon during the '70s and '80s," he said in a telephone interview.
"Many people are wondering why the Palestinians create trouble wherever they go. In Jordan, the PLO almost sparked civil war in the early '70s. Then they went to Lebanon and triggered civil war."
Abu Sa'deh's wife, Maha, an unemployed pharmacist, said hundreds of masked gunmen have been roaming the city's streets since the fighting began. "It's hard to distinguish between the Fatah and Hamas gunmen," she said. "Most of them are masked, dressed in black uniforms and armed with automatic rifles and mortars. It's like watching a Rambo movie."
At least three innocent passersby, including a female university student, have been killed in the clashes in the past three days. But what is most worrying for the residents of Gaza City is that the fighting has spread to university campuses, hospitals, schools, mosques and other public and private institutions.
Several schools have suspended studies and a Fatah-affiliated radio station, Al-Hurriya, has advised its employees to stay home. Some residents said they had stopped going to mosques for fear of being mistaken for Hamas members.
"Fatah gunmen have fired at worshippers emerging from a number of mosques in Gaza City," said local photographer Imad Judeh. "And in some cases, Hamas gunmen have used rooftops of mosques to fire at Fatah supporters."
On Tuesday morning, scores of worshippers were caught in the cross fire between Hamas and Fatah gunmen outside a mosque in Gaza City, eyewitnesses said. The two sides subsequently continued the fight at the nearby Shifa Hospital.
"These people have no respect for holy sites or hospitals," said Ashraf Udwan, who lives in an apartment near the scene of the clashes. "This is a real tragedy for the Palestinians. The reputation of the Palestinian people has been severely harmed in the eyes of the world. How will we ever be able to ask the world to support our just cause when we are killing each other mercilessly?"
Several city residents told the Post that Hamas and Fatah were equally responsible for the latest violence.
"Nothing justifies this ruthless war," said bookstore owner Khaled Shaker. "Most people here are disappointed with Hamas and Fatah. This war plays into the hands of Israel, whose leaders must be laughing at us now. We demand an end to the fighting before Palestine becomes a second Iraq."