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Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is scheduled to arrive in the Gaza Strip on Thursday for talks with Hamas leaders on ways of ending the fighting, said Nabil Amr, a top advisor to Abbas.
"The president has issued clear orders to all the security forces and gunmen in the Gaza Strip to stop shooting," he said. "The president has called off a planned visit to Jordan and will travel to the Gaza Strip on Thursday in an attempt to consolidate the cease-fire and prevent a further deterioration."
On Wednesday, following another day of fierce fighting in the Gaza Strip, Hamas and Fatah leaders announced a new cease-fire that went into effect at 8 pm. But even after the cease-fire was announced, gunmen belonging to the two sides continued to exchange gunfire in several locations.
At least 20 Palestinians were killed and 35 wounded in Wednesday's clashes, most of them militiamen belonging to the warring groups.
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Scores of Palestinian and foreign journalists were trapped for more than three hours inside their offices in two buildings in the center of Gaza City because of the fighting between the two parties. No one was hurt. The journalists were able to leave the offices buildings after Fatah and Hamas withdrew their gunmen from the area.
The latest cease-fire, the sixth of its kind in the past three days, was announced following a phone conversation between Abbas and Syria-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, a senior PA official in Ramallah told The Jerusalem Post.
The senior official expressed concern that forces loyal to Abbas and his Fatah faction had failed to crush Hamas's militias. "We have more than 50,000 armed men in the Gaza Strip," he noted. "Why aren't they doing anything to defeat Hamas?"
The official denied reports in the Israeli media according to which Fatah leaders had appealed to the US and EU for help in crushing Hamas. According to the unconfirmed reports, Fatah leaders had warned that Hamas was determined to take full control over the Gaza Strip and to eliminate many Fatah officials and warlords.
However, the official confirmed that several senior Fatah security commanders and officials had fled from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank after receiving death threats from Hamas.
Fatah spokesman Abdel Hakim Awad urged both Fatah and Hamas to halt the fighting and "direct your rifles against the Israeli enemy." He said that Fatah had not initiated the latest round of violence and that his colleagues were only defending themselves against Hamas.
PA Deputy Prime Minister Azzam Ahmed of Fatah called for expelling the "traitors and murderers" who are responsible for the continued fighting in the Gaza Strip. Referring to Hamas's militias, Ahmed said: "These are bloodthirsty murderers who are dragging the Palestinians toward the abyss. They are implementing schemes of the enemies of the Palestinians. They don't want a unity government or stability for our people."
Wednesday's violence began shortly before dawn when dozens of Hamas gunmen stormed the house of Gen. Rashid Abu Shabak, a senior PA security commander loyal to Abbas, in Gaza City.
Abu Shabak was not at home during the attack, which resulted in the killing of six of his bodyguards. Witnesses said the house, located in the Tal al-Hawa neighborhood, was completely destroyed by rocket-propelled grenades and explosive devices.
They said the bodyguards were killed execution-style after the Hamas gunmen raided the house. "The bodyguards managed to rescue Abu Shabak's wife and children just before the attackers raided the house," they added.
Hamas said the raid was prompted by an attack on one its leaders in the area. Hamas sources accused Abu Shabak's bodyguards of firing at a car carrying Hamas spokesman Ayman Taha, who was not hurt.
Hamas militiamen also launched a pre-dawn attack on the home of top Fatah operative Samir Mashharawi, but no casualties were reported.
Both Mashharawi and Abu Shabak are allies of PA National Security Advisor Muhammed Dahlan, a sworn enemy of Hamas. Hamas representatives have repeatedly accused Dahlan and his followers of waging a war on Hamas with the help of the US and Israel.
Five Hamas members were killed when a jeep they were traveling in came under fire in Gaza City. The five had been arrested by forces loyal to Abbas on charges of participating in the latest fighting. Two security officers who were accompanying the five Hamas men were also killed in the attack.
Hamas, for its part, said Abbas's forces had executed the five after being captured in Gaza City. According to Hamas, Abbas's forces have killed execution-style several Hamas members over the past few days, in addition to two Palestinian journalists who were kidnapped and shot at close range.