The Palestinian Authority decided Monday to deploy thousands of policemen on the streets of the Gaza Strip in an attempt to stop fighting between Fatah and Hamas militiamen.
Hamas leaders, meanwhile, claimed that the clashes were part of a US security plan designed to remove their movement from power.
The decision to beef up the police presence followed the collapse of an internal Palestinian cease-fire that was announced late Sunday night and the deaths of four more Palestinians in fierce fighting between the two parties. Previous attempts to deploy PA policemen on the streets failed to halt the violence.
The decision came after the resignation of PA Interior Minister Hani Kawassmeh, who is formally in charge of all Palestinian security forces. Kawassmeh said he had decided to quit because he had not been given power over the forces.
"The government, after a thorough discussion, decided to accept Kawassmeh's resignation," said PA Information Minister Mustafa Barghouti. "The government also decided to deploy a special security force under the supervision of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh to impose law and order. These forces will be deployed [in the Gaza Strip] in coordination with President Mahmoud Abbas."
Barghouti added that Haniyeh would serve as acting interior minister and would personally supervise the work of the security forces in the Strip.
Barghouti warned against turning the Gaza Strip into a failed state, saying: "There is a very dangerous conspiracy aimed at turning the Gaza Strip into another Somalia. Those behind the conspiracy are trying to cut off the Gaza Strip from the West Bank. They want to turn the Gaza Strip into a safe haven for gangs and criminals. This is something that this government can't accept, and we will work hard to eliminate the anarchy."
Monday's violence began early in the morning when dozens of Hamas gunmen attacked a Fatah office in Gaza City, killing two men.
The attack was directed against the office of Maher Miqdad, a senior Fatah spokesman in the Strip. Miqdad was not in the office during the attack; the two fatalities were his bodyguards - Ala Shbair and Muhammad al-Abassi.
Two more Palestinians were killed in confrontations between Fatah and Hamas in different parts of the Gaza Strip.
Muhammad Abdo, a 22-year-old journalist, died of his wounds early Monday. Abdo is the second journalist to die in the violence in the past 24 hours. On Sunday, Suleiman Ishi, an editor with the new Falasteen daily, was kidnapped and fatally shot by Fatah gunmen. He had been kidnapped together with Abdo in retaliation for Sunday's assassination of top Fatah operative Baha Abu Jarad.
PA security sources said about 30 people were wounded Monday, some seriously. According to the sources, 185 Palestinians have been killed and 1,146 wounded in internal fighting since the beginning of the year.
Explaining his decision to quit the government, Kawassmeh complained that PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas had refused to give him power over the security forces.
"I didn't want to serve as an interior minister with no authority," he said. "I had promised my people to end the anarchy and lawlessness. But I can't carry out my duties if I don't have control over security."
Jamal Tirawi, a Fatah legislator from the West Bank, warned that the Palestinians were headed toward a "third Nakba" (catastrophe) because of the continued fighting in the Gaza Strip. He accused unnamed Hamas leaders of seeking to ignite civil war in the Palestinian territories "to serve the agenda of non-Palestinian parties."
Hamas spokesman Salah Bardaweel accused Fatah and Abbas's loyalists in the security forces of waging a military campaign to bring down the new Hamas-led coalition. He said Abbas was responsible for the interior minister's resignation.
"Fatah has waged a war on the new government," he said. "They are implementing the American security plan aimed at getting rid of Hamas. What is happening in the Gaza Strip is tantamount to a military revolt. Abbas's security forces are behind most of the attacks on Hamas supporters. They are also behind the kidnapping and execution of the two journalists from the Falasteen newspaper."
Leaflets distributed by Hamas activists in Gaza City blamed "Mossad and CIA agents" for the latest cycle of intra-Palestinian fighting. The leaflets claimed the current crisis had been triggered by Washington's desire to undermine Hamas.
Former PA foreign minister Mahmoud Zahar, who is one of the leaders of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, also blamed the US for the latest round of violence. "This is what [US Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice wants," he said. "This is what the Americans want when they give Fatah millions of dollars and weapons."