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(photo credit: AP)
The Jordanian government on Monday threatened to close its embassy in Gaza City in response to the killing of the Jordanian ambassador's driver during clashes between Hamas and Fatah gunmen, Palestinian Authority officials here told The Jerusalem Post.
According to the officials, senior Jordanian government officials expressed deep concern over the growing violence in the Gaza Strip and warned that Jordan would close its embassy and recall its ambassador unless the two parties put an end to the daily clashes.
"The Jordanians are very angry," said one official. "We hope they won't take any drastic measures following the unfortunate incident."
PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas phoned the Jordanian ambassador, Yahya al-Karalla, and expressed deep regret over the death of the driver, who was identified as Khaled Radaidah, 48, who is a Jordanian citizen. Ten others were wounded in the clashes, most of them passersby.
Radaida's body was flown home Tuesday for burial, Israeli and Palestinian officials said.
Radaida's coffin, draped in the Jordanian flag, was escorted by Palestinian police to the Erez crossing into Israel, Palestinian security officials said. From there, the body was taken to the Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon, where a Jordanian helicopter flew the body to Amman, said Yossi Tzemach, an official at an Israeli liaison office at Erez.
Monday's killing brings to eight the number of Palestinians killed since the beginning of the month in internecine fighting. Earlier in the day, 23-year-old Muhammed Abu Toaymeh, a Fatah gunman, was killed in an armed clash with Hamas militiamen in the town of Abbasan in the southern Gaza Strip.
PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and other Hamas leaders also phoned the ambassador to offer their condolences.
The driver was shot and killed during heavy clashes that erupted between Hamas's new security force and Fatah gunmen near the offices of the Palestinian Legislative Council in Gaza City. Eyewitnesses said Radaidah was hit by stray bullets after his car was caught in the crossfire.
Fatah and Hamas held each other responsible for the killing. Abdel Hakim Awad, a Fatah spokesman, claimed the Jordanian driver was shot and killed by members of Hamas's security force.
"These black militias are responsible for the anarchy in the Gaza Strip," he said. "They are patrolling the streets in unofficial vehicles and their identities are unknown. Today's clashes began when the Hamas militiamen opened fire at Palestinian security officers."
Fatah's armed wing, the Aksa Martyrs Brigades, said Interior Minister Said Siam was responsible for the growing tensions because of his decision to establish the new Hamas force. "This is a mafia and a gang that has been terrorizing the people," the group said in a statement. "We call on the Palestinian families in the Gaza Strip to prevent their sons from joining this mafia which belongs to the Interior Minister."
Hamas, on the other hand, claimed that Radaidah was killed by members of the PA's Preventative Security Service. A top Hamas leader told the Post that the assassins belong to the Preventative Security Service's "death squad" headed by Nabil Tamous. "They opened fire from automatic weapons at Hamas gunmen stationed near the Palestinian Legislative Council, killing the Jordanian driver," he said.
Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman in the Gaza Strip, said the clashes erupted between Hamas's security forces and "suspicious" gunmen. "These clashes were not between the [Hamas] special force and the Palestinian security forces," he said. "Some suspicious gunmen are trying to trigger civil war and dissension."
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine called on Haniyeh to dismantle the new security force. The appeal was made during a meeting between a PFLP delegation and Haniyeh in Gaza City. PFLP representative Rabah Muhana told Haniyeh that the decision to deploy the 3,000-strong force was a mistake because it was illegally established.