Two Palestinians were wounded, one critically, when about a dozen Hamas and Fatah gunmen clashed ahead of a Hamas rally in the West Bank town of Nablus on Friday. According to Palestinian sources, Fatah operatives opened fire on Hamas operatives who were arranging the rally and the two casualtied were bystanders who ewere caught in the crossfire.
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Earlier Friday, Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar's personal bodyguard was kidnapped and one Palestinian was killed as a ferocious gunbattle between Hamas and Fatah operatives broke out in Gaza City, underscoring the fragility of a two-day-old truce between the rival factions.
The street battle, which encompassed the house of Zahar of Hamas and the Gaza residence of PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, died down after about 20 minutes as Muslim clerics and other mediators worked to restore the cease-fire. Abbas was not in Gaza at the time.
The violence started after two Hamas gunmen, including a senior member of the Islamic group, were kidnapped late Thursday night, security officials said. The kidnappers fired assault rifles, injuring a bystander.
Hamas blamed the kidnapping on a clan affiliated with Fatah that was trying to avenge the killing of two of its members in an earlier round of factional fighting.
That wave of violence, which broke out last week, killed 16 people and left dozens injured across Gaza, before a truce took effect Tuesday night.
But the new violence broke out when Hamas militiamen tried to free the two kidnapped fighters and engaged in a firefight with the Fatah-affiliated militants behind the abductions, Hamas officials said.
In the tense atmosphere pervading Gaza, the fight quickly spread out of control, encompassing the presidential guard outside Abbas' house, other security officers in the area and the Hamas militiamen guarding Zahar's home and the nearby Foreign Ministry building.
Gunmen manning strategic positions on rooftops began shooting at others in the streets.
The presidential guard took up defensive positions behind newly built walls of sandbags and barriers of cement blocs outside Abbas' residence.
Hamas officials said the Fatah gunmen shot at Zahar's home.
One witness estimated that more than 2,000 bullets were fired in the first 10 minutes and several rocket-propelled grenades were also launched.
Residents of the neighborhood, the scene of other gunbattles over the past week, put their children in their bathtubs for protection against stray bullets, residents said. Others tucked themselves in corners for safety.